It seemed like such a good idea at the end of last season to grow cover crops on the beds as they came empty, with little thought to my spring self. So what if they add so much value to the soil, to replace lost nutrients, add much needed organic matter and even, it is said, do special jobs like lupin adding extra nitrogen or mustard being a clean up crop. It is all very well to improve the soil – but I have to dig them in. And it is hard work.
Ideally the digging in should have been done a few weeks ago, before they started to flower, while the stems were still young and tender. But for reasons previously discussed, I’m running behind schedule and so my cover crops are flowering. Which puts me under even more pressure to get it done.
I managed one bed yesterday and I’m proud of what I have achieved but it has completely exhausted me. I slept last night for a straight 10 hours. I must have needed it, or like I suspect, I’m going soft. The bed I did tackled had lupin in it and previously had my melons in. This season it will be host to the ever hungry sweetcorn who will be delighted to find their soil has had an extra boost once their roots get down nice and deep.
But this whole cover crop thing as taught me a few lessons this winter. Firstly, I didn’t know the lupin cover crop I’ve grown for years has beautiful blue flowers. I have always diligently chopped them back long before they even show the slightest signs of breaking into bloom. We have some naturalised lupin growing around the garden with yellow flowers that smell heavenly when in flower, so I’m considering scattering some of the cover crop seeds as a yellow and blue combo up the side of the hill beside the garden would look amazing.
The other interesting thing has come from the mustard crops. It would seem not all of my beds are equal. The garden beds were filled on a first come first served basis – as I needed it for a crop the bed was filled. The first row is pretty much pure swamp soil. But as the garden developed the pile of soil was moved a couple of times because it was in the wrong place. And with each move, some sand became mixed in. It couldn’t be helped and then for the last beds, most of the soil had been used so we were scratching around to find patches of it. It didn’t seem to matter too much – so long as the beds were filled.
It would seem it did matter after all and the mustard cover crop was a good indicator. One bed was lush, thick and tall while another was short, thin and barely grew taller than the edge of the bed. Another crop was about halfway between them both in terms of verdant growth.
This is a good lesson into the quality of the soil. Just by digging them back in to the soil, I’m improving it, but for the poorest bed, it will need extra love, so I’ll lavish it with compost, well rotten manure and other bits and bobs, and as the crops in it grow I will make sure I feed them regularly to ensure they get what they need that may be missing from the soil. I’ll grow cover crops again next season and really try to build up that soil.
So, cover crops are good for so much more than first thought and I’ll continue to grow them, even if digging them in almost kills me!
Come again soon – there are so many spring things that need doing I don’t know where to start.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Last week was very exciting for me. Even more exciting than sowing seeds, and that is a big call because sowing seeds is one of the highlights of spring. There is something almost magical in taking inert bits that parted company from the parent plant a long time ago – for some seeds that could be years ago and plunge them into moist warm soil and voila… they come back to life. How can you not marvel at the wonder of that?
But what I marvelled at the wonder of last week, was my amazing builder’s ability to take the vision from my head and with his technical skills turn it into a reality. Last week we built shelves for my geodesic biodome. It has been a long time coming. Originally it should have been done last season when the dome was finished, but the dome didn’t get the glass on until late in the season and the urgency was gone. I had spent the season juggling plants on the floor of the dome and did my best not to stand on them, kick them over or be tripped up by them. They seemed to do well enough huddled underneath the temporary covering of the plastic pallet wrap that clung tightly to the exterior of the dome.
Then I spent a great deal of time pondering and wondering. Often, I find my best ideas are ones that I’ve sat on for a while and given mental space to develop into something great. Normally the ideas that I have and immediately race out to convert into a reality are never my best work. So, I’ve been thinking about these shelves for a long time.
Ordinarily I think about how I want it to look at the end and then think backward to figure out how to achieve it. Sometimes I need to go back and change the original concept because of an unforeseen problem in the design. This time I even asked anyone who would listen, what they thought about it, what they would do if it was theirs. This just confused me even more. But at the end of the day the same design kept coming back to me – a set of shelves that ran around the entire interior perimeter of the dome. I just knew that is what I wanted.
The big question was how? I know for a fact that my woodworking skills leave a lot to be desired. You only need to see what I did with my hardening off staging to cringe with horror. >It’s all staged< I’m surprised I even posted that project for all the world to see. It is clearly not my best work! Knowing and appreciating my limitations, in the face of urgency for the new growing season, I began to worry. I really didn’t want to have another growing season starting out on the floor. In the depths of worry, in the middle of the night, I came to the realisation I wouldn’t be able to do it myself, well I could but it wouldn’t be great. I decided to ask my builder to help. After that peace came and I stopped worrying. It would be ok.
A week later my amazing builder turned up with a load of wood, screws, tools and the all-important technical knowhow. Before he arrived, I emptied the dome of all the items that had found its way in there and with some coloured chalk I began measuring things out so we would be able to make a plan. I may not have known how to build it, but I could come up with a starting point. It isn’t an easy shape. There are 18 points to it and every other diameter is 10cm shorter than the other. Then I needed to decide the span of each section of shelving around the outside and how wide and how tall? It was hard to tell.
So with no real major decision made and me with a great idea with how it should look firmly in my head and my amazing builder with a vague idea based upon my grandiose descriptions that lacked any really useful information other than ‘it’ll be fab’, we set to work.
We started with the frame that would hold the shelves, so depth and height of the shelves was the first decision based on arm’s length and the placement of my largest seed trays. Height was determined by the height of a kitchen bench – if it is good enough for the kitchen, then it’s good enough for me and also the length of the wood meant we could cut three lengths without wasting any.
Once each frame was constructed, we loosely positioned them around the dome and started to play with the span of each section. Once we decided not to tie it into the angles of the dome itself but sit it as snuggly as we could within it, it made wider spans possible, which meant less wood and less work and made so much more sense. We started with the section immediately across from the door and made sure it was lined up with it to make it aesthetically pleasing and gave us a starting point for the rest of the shelving. Working out the angles of each section so it butted up nicely with the next was where I would have become unstuck. That is a technical ability way ahead of my capabilities, but the wood was cut with a skill I had to admire and over the course of the day shelves began to appear.
My amazing builder kept saying ‘I can’t believe how good this looks’, and I kept saying ‘it’s just like I imagined it would be.’ We work well together with thinking through problems and me holding the wood being cut so it didn’t fall to the floor. We didn’t get it completely finished as there is still most of the shelves on the bottom layer to do, but we ran out of day and wood. So, one day soon it will be finished, but for now I have all that I need. My plants have somewhere to grow.
Come again soon – there is digging and weeding and sowing, transplanting and all good things about spring to be done.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I no longer feel panicked and the season can finally start. I know I said it wasn’t a race and I had ages, but that seed sowing window was wide open and was calling me to climb through it. So I found a window of time, grabbed my seed packets and set about sowing seeds. I didn’t get them all done – just the vegies. I will need to go back and sow the flower seeds in the next couple of days. But the crops are done and I can relax a little.
And I decided to show you how I did it, so sit back and watch my short little video with actual footage of me getting this season started! (oh and there is a quick tour of my new garden office at the end.)
Now the seeds are in I can look about the garden and decide which of the many tasks I should do next… Fun times ahead.
Come again soon – this will be a good season, it just has to be.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
It certainly feels like it. Spring is four days old and I’ve done nothing about it. I just want to shake myself – ‘do you not realise it is spring – the season of seasons, the one you long for all year, the chance to sow all the seeds with wild abandon, with no guilt of going too early?’ Seriously – I need to give myself a stern talking to.
I have not embraced the start of this glorious season with the same over enthusiasm I have in previous years. Even though the weather was so wonderfully spring like with cloudless blue-sky days with a hint of the possibility of summer for the first couple of days. Since then it has turned to pot and delivered winter-esk wind and rain and so that hope for the new season feeling has withered up like a new bud on a tree that peaked too early and got hit by a frost. (Not that we have had a frost – just to be clear – things aren’t quite that bad.)
I do have good reasons for the delay to the start of spring. Firstly, I think with the first day of the new season being on a Sunday created a few issues. I try not to garden on weekends – unless there are exceptional circumstances. My kids are growing up so fast and if I blink, I will miss what is left of their time at home and they would have left and become adults without me even looking up from my weeding. So, weekends are for them. Having said that – ordinarily sowing seeds on the first day of spring would be considered exceptional circumstances – laced with a heavy dose of tradition. And I could have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for Father’s Day.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the value of honouring dad’s and so we whisked ourselves halfway down the country to see my Dad while making sure Hubby the Un-Gardener also felt special. It was a lovely time with family.
But my seed sowing was thwarted once again on our arrival home. The weather was perfect, it was a Monday – the fresh start to a new week in a new season, but alas no. I was doing a spot of frenzied panic weeding and tidying for a bus load of lovely gardeners from a local garden club who visited that afternoon. It was a great time and they all seemed to enjoy my garden. Sometimes it is hard for me to see what they see as I can only see what needs to be done. I need to sit down more – possibly on my swing seat and just admire my handiwork. But as my Nana used to say, ‘that won’t get the cows milked.’ Or in more suitable for me way ‘that won’t get the seeds sown’.
Tuesday was my second chance at getting the seeds sown, but after four weeks of not feeling that great I decided to go to the Dr, just to check things out, only to find out it was ‘viral’, and I’d recover – eventually. So, I shall just push on and try and get things done. Things like sowing seeds. But the trip into town took a huge chunk of time out of my day and so the most I had time for was to gather the seeds together and write out all the labels. And before I knew it the day was at an end.
As much as I feel a little panicked that I’m now four days behind in my seed sowing, I need to stop beating myself up about it and remind myself that the seed sowing window for the new season is not just the first day or the first week – but that window is open for a couple of months. And to be honest the delay may even result in healthier plants because, like I always say ‘plants sown too early can struggle to thrive and plants sown at the right time soon overtake them and go on to be more productive’ or words to that effect.
At the end of the day it will be fine (although at the end of which day at this point is anyone’s guess) and standing in the middle of the garden in the middle of summer you wouldn’t even be able to tell this was a thing that caused me so much consternation.
Come again soon – seeds will be planted.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
To be honest you really can’t tell you are going to run into problems until you run into problems. But having said that, I should have foreseen this one as I grow brassicas all year round so, they are going to get maximum use of their space until the very last minute.
Now that would be ok, if I had a slow starter following them. In the old garden the brassicas went into the salad bed, which, while I can grow both over winter, they tend to end up bolting and going to seed at the same time. Easy. Out with the old and in with the new.
Here they are in a completely different crop rotation cycle. They are in with the onions, tomatoes, peas and squash. These four were together in the old garden in what was a foursome of long skinny beds. Nothing has changed as far as bed size goes and they all worked well there.
The squash are in this group because they are easy to contain in a long skinny bed, especially with the help of some landscape stables to direct their growth. The onions, tomatoes and peas are in this group because they work well together. The peas come before the tomatoes in the off chance they have left their nitrogen rich goodness in the soil for the tomatoes to take advantage of. The onions follow up after the tomatoes just in case they leave soil cleaning properties in the soil to clean up any diseases the tomatoes may leave in their wake. The tomatoes are there in the middle of all of this because they are tomatoes and are the stars of the summer garden and should be treated as such.
It also helps to plant peas and tomatoes in two long rows for ease of harvest, care and maintenance. The onions have the bonus that they are in the longest bed so there is room for even more, so they can almost last us all year for cooking in the kitchen.
So that takes me back to this new interloper, a potential new friend on the edge of a tight group, with the squash being that goofy friend that somehow fits in, but no one really knows how or why. The brassica are in danger of annoying my onion, tomato, pea bond, because of the over wintering peas – that was a complete disaster and I’ve decided to stick with dwarf ones from now on as they just get buffered about too much in winter winds.
The new spring peas are nearly ready to go into their new bed – where they always go, but alas, someone is still sitting there. Ok most of the brassica are ready to move on, but there are still a few cabbage crops in there that still have a way to go. So, do I leave them and make my peas wait? Or do I sacrifice my cabbages. Or do I break up the beneficial threesome and put the peas somewhere else. There are two empty beds – well kind of empty. The old squash bed is sitting there waiting for the brassicas without a weed in sight. And the new squash bed, which was the old onion bed that had a second life as a popcorn bed, is currently knee high with a lupin cover crop that will need digging in soon anyway.
I think I may just move the brassicas in the crop rotation cycle, so they are in between the squash and the onions. It will mean digging in the cover crop sooner rather than later, but I haven’t sown any brassica seeds yet so there is time. That puts the squash between the peas and the brassicas and they finish in the autumn and don’t need to be planted out again until the mid – late spring, so if the brassica need to linger that is no problem and it doesn’t get in the way of starting the peas early in the spring.
The only drawbacks are the squash will go in the same bed again this season, but they are generally problem free – well not as bad as more fickle crops, and I’ll give the soil some extra love, so they have what they need.
The other problem I may have to sacrifice the remaining cabbages and do some serious harvesting to clear the bed. Apparently, you can freeze kale – I looked it up!
Spring is just around the corner and the spring prep is coming along nicely now that I’m not sick anymore. I’m not as far forward as I’d like to be, but the workload isn’t insurmountable.
Come again soon – bring on spring I say!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
It has been well over a week since I felt ‘normal’. Actually, I never feel normal, let me rephrase that. It has been well over a week since I felt well. This cold has really taken its toll on me. To start with I was resting to recover and did things I never do, like stay in bed all day and intermittently sleeping between watching chick flicks and exhausting every gardening show and you tube video I could find. Not only was I slowly feeling better, but it was a huge indulgence. I am normally a productive relaxer and feel most at peace when I’m doing something. To do absolutely nothing leaves me feeling frustrated. I really hate being sick.
The more I lay there in the cosy warm, the more frustrated I felt. Spring is just around the corner and there is so much to do, and it won’t be being done all the while I’m lying there. I tried making mental lists in my head but having not been in the garden for over a week it was hard to truly visualise what needed doing. All I could really worry about was the unfinished tasks that don’t need that much of a push to get them done. Then there is the shelving in the dome to be done, but that requires a clear head to work it all out as it is far from straight forward.
It was good to spend time getting all my paper working things up to date, but they weren’t that far behind as I’d taken care of everything before we went on holiday. It is weird the way I do that. I’m only gone for ten days but I tie up all the loose ends like I’d be away for a year or more! I’ve almost been as unwell for the same length of time and I did no planning or preparation for that absence of leave. I think the holiday helps and compounds the situation; I wasn’t wildly out of control but the time out of the garden over the last 6 weeks is much greater than the time spent in it. This is also down to the weather as it is finally behaving like winter.
But enough is enough and while I am not 100%, I am probably well enough to drag myself out there and do something. So that is what I did. I didn’t have a plan, or a list and I just went out there to have a look and find a nice gentle task that would leave me feeling satisfied that I’d done something and made some kind of progress. Wandering around the garden I knelt down to pull a wayward weed and took great pleasure from the ease it released itself from the loose fluffy soil. It felt good to be back in touch with the earth and have dirt under my nails.
So good, in fact, that one weed lead to another and another and before I knew it I’d weeded and entire bed, moved on to another and then another and before I knew it I’d done eleven beds, before the sky began to darken and threaten to rain. Being rained on is the last thing I need right now; I might end up catching a different cold.
It doesn’t bother me that I didn’t tackle anything on the list that worried me while lying in bed. There is still plenty of time and knowing the garden is mostly weed free is one less thing to worry about as we move towards the spring and will be easier to stay on top of than trying to tame an out of control jungle while trying to do all the things the new season requires of us.
In the meantime, I’ll share some of the things I discovered while pottering about in the garden, and all going well I’ll be able to get back out there again tomorrow and maybe even start crossing things off lists.
Come again soon – I am more well than I am unwell and so there is nothing stopping me from doing a spot of gardening… except maybe some rain.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
NB – clicking on the photos will tell you more about what is going on in them.
The first seeds of the season have been sown, with love and care and great expectation. But then disaster struck. Actually, it isn’t as bad as that, but it is extremely frustrating. I have picked up some kind of cold or lurgy that has left me unable to watch over my buried seeds with the unnecessary frequency I normally do. Those first seeds of the season are often checked 3 or 4 times a day for signs of life that often take 7 to 10 days to appear. Frequent checking on day 3 won’t speed things up but you never know. …
Instead I’m trying to recover my health and shake the cold that is clutching at my lungs and weighing down my sinuses making me want to sleep deeply during the day and leaves me wide awake during what seems to be the longest hours of darkness to be endured. But I’m being dramatic. It just seems to be a cold that has hit me harder than I would like to admit to.
Besides the wind and the rain are still raging about outside and gardening wouldn’t be fun. Although I do despair of the things still to be done. With the sowing of the first seeds, the tug of spring on the coat tails seems more urgent.
The seeds I have sown are the ones that I have decided need the best head start on the season as they take such a long time to get going. Having said that I normally start them off with great fanfare on the first day of August like a tradition that must be upheld no matter what. However, these days I seem to be a little more relaxed about things. The growing season is just that – a season and the period of time when it is ideal to sow seeds is a very wide window indeed. I’ve always known this but succumbed to the feeling that these things needed to be done at the first opportunity. Seeing others start theirs, provided it wasn’t way too early, did make me feel a little anxious. But I need to remind myself. It is not a race and if I sow seeds last week, next week or even next month, they will still be ok.
Gardening isn’t a race and I’m not competing with other gardeners and I’m certainly not competing with nature. So long as her seeds fall into warm soil with the right kind of moisture and daylight and day length, then she isn’t that fussed.
So, with my seeds tucked up in a good quality seed raising mix on a heat pad with enough water supplied, without being mollycoddled then they won’t even notice I’m not hovering about them fretting over their ability to germinate. They will just get on with it and knowing this makes it easier for me to recover from coughing and spluttering without worrying about them and before we know it, we will both be out in the garden, enjoying the warmth of the summer sun.
Come again soon – there will be better days ahead.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
The weather has turned. Up until recently it was mild, even possibly warm. The sun shone for more days than it rained to the point the experts were concerned about impending summer drought as the reservoirs were at a similar winter low to the year there actually was a serious drought.
The sun still shines from time to time as the wind is moving the clouds along so fast, they only cover the sun for the blink of a moment. The rain is kind of welcome. It is nice in that it is filling the water tanks, so summer watering of the garden can be done without a care in the world and the plants get their full thirst quenched. But at the same time, it is a bit of a pain. It is too wet to work outside, but not only too wet – it is an icy cold wet, the kind of rain that stings your face and hands and any exposed parts. And sometimes it comes in sideways – and fast. Often embellished with a touch of hail. Not pleasant at all.
After such an extended period of mild and balmy weather it was, to be honest, taken for granted. I kick myself for all the days I chose not to go out into the garden to get things done, just because I didn’t feel like it. I think I need a big poster on my wall in the winter that says, “Don’t waste nice winter days!” Having said that some of those days were not my fault… we did go on holiday and I was also told by a doctor to put my foot up for a week after a final remedy for a sprain that had been bothering me since January.
The bit I think is the worst is the wind. Not only is it a howling gale, but it is noisy. If it wasn’t so noisy, I don’t think it would be as bad. Right now, the gusts are 45 km/h. I would love to find out what they have been, but my poor weather station is struggling to keep up and only intermittently displays the data. I can’t even tell you which direction it has come from as the wind direction part has long since blown away! I think if I want to continue to monitor the conditions, I’ll need a more robust system.
I think the blessing comes from the big storm we had when we first moved here – the terrifying 212km/h winds at the start of our project has meant everything thing we have done here has the worst-case wind in mind. So, our sheds stand strong, the dome is immovable. It would seem an iron shed 1 kilometre up our driveway has become a twisted heap. An ordinary greenhouse wouldn’t have stood a chance. I have to say the spiralling costs of the dome have niggled away at me, tainting slightly the joy I have in it. But on a day like today I am grateful for it and all that it cost.
So, the wind from the depths of the Antarctic started blowing about a week ago and the boffins have not suggested a let up in the immediate future. But it is winter after all. It is supposed to be cold and yucky. What I need to ask myself is am I crazy enough about my garden to rug up warm and get out there and get stuff done to prepare for the impending spring?
Come again soon – the weather is raining on my parade.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
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)