SARAH THE GARDENER

Balancing The Palace.

I have been doing a bit of reflecting this week and decided I need a bit of balance in my life.  I have been bursting a fufu valve trying to get the first garden in The Palace completed by the end of the month.  But I was in danger of turning my pleasure garden into a place of anything but pleasure right now.  

The ocean today

It might look like a nice day but the white water hints at the ferocious wind whipping across it, but gives no hint of just how bitterly cold it is and the horizon hides the next heavy burst of rain that can appear without notice. It isn’t actually a very nice day – no matter what it looks like.

For those who don’t know, The Palace is the only kind of flattish land we have on our 10 acres beside the sea, other than the land the house and vegetable garden is on.  So over time I want to develop this flattish strip of land into something amazing.  And I have high ambitions – hence the building of an enormous rock for this first garden.  When you have big land, you need big features. 

Before The Palace

Eventually The Palace gardens will sprawl off in this direction.

The concept behind The Palace was to kind of treat the strip of land like one of those palaces like Versailles or the ‘modern’ part of Hampton Court.  In these palaces, the royal chambers are all on one floor and instead of each room coming off a common corridor, you have to go through each room to get to the next.   I want to create a series of garden rooms that have a path running through them so to get from one end to the other you need to pass through all of the garden rooms.  The other distinct feature is each room in the real palaces are all very different from each other and adorned in bright colours and so with my palace garden each room will be very different in style, colour, design, although at this point, I haven’t figured out all the details.

Brick paving

This garden is far from being finished and certainly won’t be by the end of the week – especially when the weather is dodgy.

It is going to be fabulous, but I will take it one garden at a time, I’m only one person and a Hubby the Un-Gardener and we are no longer spring chickens.  The thing is, I’ve been writing about my gardening journey thanks to the kindness of the good people at Kiwi Gardener magazine and am really enjoying sharing my story and my garden wouldn’t be what it is today without the constantly looming deadlines for another article.  It keeps me motivated and creative and good things happen. 

Mustard Cover Crop and Pollinator

Aside from the overdue guilt with not pulling down this mustard cover crop, I think I can convince myself another couple of days won’t hurt if I’m feeding pollinators.

Although this first room in The Palace has pushed me beyond my limits.  I underestimated how long it would take to finish it, and after working on it almost every day for months, I honestly thought I’d be done by now.  But I’m not.  I was working to this self-imposed deadline, to the point of laying brick paving by the light of the moon.  But nothing else was being done.  

The vegie garden

This is the garden as it stands today – cold, wet and a little neglected.

With the start of August at the end of the week, it was a realization that spring is closer than I thought, and I need to shift focus and rejiggle some deadlines.   By extending the story of The Palace I can begin multitasking again and so my days will be spread more evenly with garden preparation, ticking things off the ‘to-do’ list, getting in more writing and a couple of other projects I had honestly thought I’d have done by now but was completely misguided.

Daphne - a blessing in winter

Daphne – a blessing in winter. I wish you could smell it!

The decision to make some changes has lifted a weight off my shoulders and the thought of days of varied activities and small tasks ticked off has put a skip back in my step and I can allow the spring fever to begin to creep in.   I just need the weather to be nice to me so I can get many things done.

Come again soon – midwinter is almost behind us! 

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

It’s Shrinking

After last year’s seed order postal debacle, I decided to plan the garden earlier this year, and get my seeds ordered in good time, just in case.  Having said that, The Palace project has held me up a little bit, along with the school holidays and other wonderful reasons.  It was on the planner chart to be done by the end of the week ending July 4th, so I’m only a couple of weeks behind.  But it will still be a little tight for some of the seeds so I hope the post isn’t delayed again.  I guess the difference this time is there isn’t covid running rampant through the sorting office! 

Garden plans

I’ve found my garden plan system is working really well. Any useful information gets jotted down, like spacing distances that work well etc. I surprise myself I’ve managed to keep it going for 3 seasons – with a couple of reprints and copying all the information over.

Ordering seeds for me isn’t just a case of flicking through seed catalogues and lobbing things into the shopping cart on a whim.  I have to be strategic.  Over the years I have worked out what works well in the garden, but also what our family will actually eat.  It is no good growing a mountain of something they turn their noses up at, no matter how much I enjoyed the process of growing it.   The veggie patch needs to be a well oiled food production machine with limited wastage. 

Sorting seeds

When sorting seeds it is out with the old to make room for the new and the not so old gets another shot and growing an abundant harvest for me this season.

For many of the crops it is a matter of going through my seed tin and looking for the empty or aging packets to replace them.  Once seeds packets are opened, no matter how well you store them, the viability rates drop over time.   I store mine in my cool office shed, (cool in more ways than one!) in a rodent proof tin – not that rodents have ever found their way into my office shed, but should the unthinkable occur, I’ll be ready. 

messy greenhouse

I’m going to have to clean up the greenhouse in plenty of time to sow the seeds in an environment becoming of tender young green babies.

Over the years, I have had enough opportunities to experience the frustration of waiting for old seeds to eventually emerge.  Knowing they are old, I sow a few more than I need, then I panic and sow a million more a couple of weeks later just in case, and then the first lot will emerge but with not quite enough to fill the row, and the second lot come through, in full force – i.e. half a million show up and then I have an unwanted succession seedling thing going on that makes the garden look uneven.  And waiting for them to be big enough to plant out sets me back in time and I see everyone else’s plants on social media and begin the worry all over again.  And because I’m a softy, I end up with half a million extra plants to care for before eventually giving them away.   

Earlicheer Daffodils

A sign of the impending spring is the Earlicheer Daffodils are in full bloom and glorious and the King Alfred Daffodils are budding up.

So now I’m a little more ruthless.  When I open a seed pack I write the year on it and tuck it back into the seed tin when I’m finished.  Each year anything with an old date on it gets taken out of the tin, even if there are still seeds in there.   Sometimes these seeds make it to the seed swap with the exclaimer that they are old so sow loads.  But sometimes the burden of guilt with these seeds ending up with a new gardener that may end up giving up gardening for life because of my ‘generosity’ prevents me from taking the bundle of open packets anywhere and so it sits, gathering dust.  Maybe I should put them all on a bird table so nothing is wasted and my guilt is assuaged.  I’ll add ‘build bird table’ to the to-do list. 

Pink Fir Apple Potatoes

Another sign of spring, made me impulse buy some Pink Fir Apple Potatoes seed potatoes.

This season anything from 2018 and 2019 got taken out of the tin.  To stop things getting too boring, I look for different varieties of some of the things so I’m not growing the same old same old, year in year out, without compromising the eating of old favourites.  I also have space set aside in the garden for interesting things that end up in the shopping cart on a whim.

Paving in the moonlight

The deadline to get the first room of The Palace garden completed found me paving bricks by the light of the moon.

But there are a couple of changes to the garden this season and I feel a little nervous about making them.  Historically I have tried to squeeze in as many tomato and pepper plants as I could, pushing the boundaries of recommended planting distances as far as I could without overcrowding.  But for the last few years I have had so many problems with these plants that I’m beginning to think maybe social distancing is the problem.  So, this year I am growing dramatically fewer plants, hoping for a bigger harvest.   I am also toying with the idea of building a frame of sorts over the tomatoes to protect them from the Tomato Potato Psyllid as this causes upsetting devastation and I’m tired of dealing with it.  Limiting the peppers has also been an interesting choice, because it has made me admit for once and for all, we don’t like things that hot, so with limited spaces, only the mildly spicy got a look in.

Rock garden

The new garden at the top of the stairs has taken a huge priority lately for the final push to get it finished.

Another major change coming my way is, while my nest is full now, by the time the harvest is ready, the occupancy rate will be down by a quarter as one of the teen lads is looking at university opportunities in far flung places.   There will be one less mouth to feed.  So, my old tried and tested I need x number of these and xx number of those will leave me with too much to feed us, but potentially not enough to solve world hunger.   But the upside of this is giving me the option to explore other creative ways to use the space and branch out into as yet unexplored garden possibilities.  Time will tell what this looks like, but there are several ideas floating around in my head. 

Come again soon – the sun is shining, and the garden won’t prepare itself for spring.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Getting Ratty

Last week was pretty much a bust as far as being productive in the garden.  I got in an hour in total, prepping one bed for the spring, and I’m glad I did that, as I was toying with the idea of not doing anything at all because it was late in the day and not that warm. It was just a quick job, and I didn’t linger in the garden at all.

Rat front door

That is quite the pile of sand pulled out from under the garden by some industrious rodent.

But if I had lingered, I might have noticed someone had taken up residence under my old squash bed soon to be pea bed.  So, this morning as I did my Monday morning wander to decide what to do, on a cold but dry day I noticed something strange.

Rat back door

It would seem the garden bed is just the hallway as the tunnel just passes through and pops out below ground on the other side of the bed.

At first, I thought it might have been the work of Hubby the Un-Gardener as we had spent a good amount of time up in The Palace getting the soil levelled and Hubby the Un-Gardener was making great piles of excess sand.  I thought maybe he’d bought some down to the garden, but then thought probably not.  I can’t see him bumping down the stairs with Wilbur the Wheelbarrow full of sand.  Especially when I’d told him it was ok to just dump the excess sand over the edge.

Broken irrigation

In the pursuit of the rat race I inadvertently punctured the buried irrigation pipe… Twice!

As I got closer it became clear what was going on…  It was a great excavation of sand from beneath the garden bed with a bit of an indented trail leading to a hole.  It could only be one thing….  RATS!

Fixing irrigation

Being able to gather the bits and bobs from my irrigation supplies stash meant I could just get on with the job. Because it was cold, a hot cup of water is a must to help ease the connectors onto the softened pipe.

The interesting thing is the mound wasn’t my lovely swamp soil, it was all sand.  I was a little worried that with that amount of sand missing underneath my bed, the lovely swamp soil would collapse into the cavity below.  I decided to set things right and shoveled the soil off the area affected, expecting to find a large rat like room in the sand beneath.  But all I found was a tunnel that went across the bed and out the other side.

Fixing irrigation

And just like that the old broken section of pipe was out and a new one added in.

It certainly wasn’t a large enough tunnel to account for all the sand.  So, I started prodding the sand in the path on the other side of the bed and it gave way as I stomped my foot through the exit tunnel.  I thought ‘Right, I’ll follow the tunnel and chase you down! You won’t get away from me!’  I grabbed the shovel and started to follow the tunnel across the path, until I hit something.

Fixing irrigation

The drippers were turned on to make sure their were no drips and leaks coming from the repaired pipe.

I had completely forgotten about irrigation pipe running under the path and had dug into it, putting holes in it in two places.   So, the rat hunt was cast aside, and I gathered the supplies for this new unexpected task – repairing the irrigation.  Fortunately, I had the bits and pieces on hand and was able to remove the broken section and fit in a new length of pipe, secured in place it with a couple of barbed joiners and rachet clips holding it all in place.  Then I ran the irrigation to the old pea bed soon to be the tomato bed and made sure there were no leaks, before covering it all back over.

garden path

And a quick rake of the path and we can pretend the rat hunt and the broken irrigation never happened.

With the irrigation repaired and the rat hunt abandoned, lest I do more damage, I went and got the Good Nature rat trap and moved it to the side of the bed that was once the entrance to the tunnel.  Although after I demolished a good metre and a half of their front corridor, I’m not entirely sure they will use it again or find a new way in and out.

Good Nature Rat Trap

And we’ll leave the job of taking care of the rats to the expert…

But whatever happens I’ll leave it up to the rat trap as I know it does a great job, I’ve had 38 humane kills since I’ve installed it, and I know that because it sends a message to my phone every time it gets one!

Come again soon – it was supposed to rain today but didn’t so, I’m not sure what the week will hold.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

… And hunkering down when it’s not.  It has been a difficult week.  There were days when the sun shone down on us like it was spring and days that felt like winter was making us pay for some unknown slight.  Today seems like a bit of both.  It is very cold, yet sunny, which is quite manageable for a spot of gardening except the wind is howling and intermittently brings squalls of rain straight off the ocean when you least expected in intervals not really long enough to do anything in the dry spells.  I did consider wrapping up warm and popping on a raincoat but decided I wasn’t brave or stupid enough.

Sunshine on a rainy day

This is one of the many sunny spells during the day when Fennel the Cat basked in a sunbeam

The other problem with this week is the weather hasn’t lined up with my commitments and on days when the sky was blue and the air was still, I was indoors doing indoor things that couldn’t be avoided or delayed and then when I’m free and ready to head outdoors, things were far from ok for sensible gardening activities.

rainy day

Just over 10 minutes later the sunbeam was gone and rain was pounding at the window and Jasper the Dog took Fennel the Cat’s spot.

It is only to be expected at this time of year, but gosh this winter is being a tease.  It makes you think all things are possible and yet its not.   It doesn’t help that my goals for the month are huge, and I’ve entered the point of overload where it wakes me in the night as I fret about how I’m going to fit it all in.  Some of it is self-imposed expectations but a large chunk of it isn’t and is time sensitive or externally deadlined.   I’m not fretting much yet – there are still 24 days left in the month.  I’m sure I can fit it all in…  Maybe I do need to haul out that raincoat and be brave and stupid!

rain radar rain

The rain this arvo has been coming in fast and furious in frequent short spells. Not long enough to get anything done between the drips as shown in this Metservice Rain Radar.

I did have an hour spare yesterday when the weather was marginally ok, and umm’d and err’d for a while.  The soft me was ‘stay inside in the warm, you know you want to’.  But the other me said ‘pull ya socks up and get outside.  You can achieve a lot in an hour, and you don’t know when the next nice hour will be…’  So, I pulled up my socks and went outside and took down a cover crop and made yet another bed spring ready.  Progress does feel good, even if it’s slow.

Garden bed spring ready

In a short hour I managed to remove the cover crop, enrich the soil and chop up the cover crop and lay it back down and pop a good thick layer of compost on the top and all I have to do is step back and let the worms to the work incorporating it all into the soil. This bed isn’t needed for months so there is plenty of time. Oh the metre at the far end didn’t have any organic materials added because it is for the carrots and they don’t like it too rich!

I’ve also managed to get some good time up in The Palace.  Hubby the Un-Gardener gave me several hours of his time on the weekend and so while he shoveled sand to level the area up in preparation for the paving I worked on the rock and have made great progress.  After that session everything seems achievable, but that was days and days ago and I’m back worrying optimistically.

Building a rock

I’m quite pleased with the progress of the rock even if it feels slow going sometimes. You can barely see where the join for old half and the new half is.

But at this time of year, you just need to take each day as it comes because the forecast is always moving, and a sunny day is never promised, and a rainy day always has the potential to become a blessing.

Come again soon – at this time of year I’m constantly fighting with apathy in order to make achievements.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

A week of two halves.

This week couldn’t have been more contrasting if it tried.  The first 3 days was constant rain, high winds with frequent gusts up to or at 150 km/h, hail coming in sideways and fast, and some thunder and lightning thrown in for good measure.  Needless to say, no gardening was done then at all.   And while 150 km/h seems like a lot, it didn’t cause too much sleeplessness in the night as we know our place can survive up to 212km/h thanks to the storm that rolled in while our house was still up on jacks with the removal truck still underneath!  As a result of that storm everything has been built strong.

Hail on the window

The hail on the window shows just how cold and nasty it was.

Then the last three days – including this one, is blue sky magnificence without a puff of wind.  Ok it is a little chilly.  While we don’t get frosts here, at the end of our long driveway it is has been like a white enchanted land, if we get out early enough to see it!  I don’t mind it being a little chilly on days like this as you soon warm up working in the garden.  Each day like this is also a blessing because winter is normally more miserable weather, and while it may not rain every day, it can be gloomy grey sky days and your mind tells you not to bother going outside.  It is hard work trying to convince it otherwise and sometimes it wins.

A beautiful winter day in the garden

A beautiful winter day in the garden

So, with the first half of the week out, and the last half of the last week out due to ‘0’ celebrations for Hubby the Un-Gardener, June came to an abrupt end as far as my gardening schedule goes.  I have my master chart, where I have listed out all I want / need to achieve each month and on the whole, I think I managed last month quite well.  Although adjustments have been made for the next two months.  Mostly around preparing the beds for spring.

Late season chillies

While there were still chillies in the garden, I decided to harvest the lot, and pull the plants out. Some were still flowering, but I needed to draw a line somewhere so I don’t repeat the disease ridden overwintering debacle from last season.

I have 35 beds and currently 10 are new season ready or already in action with new season crops, like the onion and garlic.   So, this is encouraging.  But I only had it on the list to sort out one bed a week.   So that will take 25 weeks.  I don’t have 25 weeks.  So, I adjusted it to preparing 2 a week, with a mind to do more than that.

Pepper bed ready for zucchinis

The pepper bed is now spring ready for the zucchinis.

For the beds with cover crops, it takes about an hour and a half to pull out the cover crop, add amendments, chop up the cover crop material and spread it over the garden and then top it off with compost.  For beds without cover crops, normally because there is a crop languishing there, it takes about half the time with the same process without dealing with the cover crop.   The bed preparing is high on the weekly to do list as it is essential I am free to focus on what needs to be done in early spring so I can head away for 20 days in late spring.

Making a rock

With the help of Hubby the Un-Gardener and the teen lads we got the rock up the hill. It wasn’t easy but after much ‘discussion’ and determination we made it!

The other thing I have been focusing on is The Palace.  This needs to be finished by the end of the month as there is an article based deadline.  I have all the elements I need to put it together, well at this point I think I do.  I’ve been working on it on and off for 5 months now and so really need to give it some urgency in the final push.  The rock has been moved up to the top and positioned in its permanent home, so now I need to build up the top half to finish it off so I’m back to the paper mache cement stage again.  The chicken wire we used this time seems to have bigger holes, which makes it so much easier to apply the cement sodden fabric.  I wish I knew this earlier.  It would have saved so much time.

Then there is leveling the ground.  I have asked Hubby the Un-Gardener to help as his man strength makes things happen a lot faster than my best effort.  After that is laying bricks – how hard can that be?

Asparagus bed in winter

All signs of green have gone from the asparagus so it was time to chop it down and prepare it for spring.

I have also managed to tick off putting guttering on both the sheds, clearing the asparagus and planting out the onions, sorting out the spring bulbs, some of which are now flowering and spreading their spring cheer into the chill of winter.  I’ve also managed to keep up with the fortnightly preventative spraying for garlic rust.  I’m determined to beat it this year.  So far so good.

Spring ready asparagus bed

It does feel good to have the asparagus bed spring ready. They normally start popping up again for us in August – I can’t wait.

There are a few things I didn’t get to, some pesky accounting type paperwork, but I think a little and often approach might work with that because it is tedious and boring.  I have all the materials ready for a backdoor garden, but just couldn’t get to it, and I should have started planning for the new season seeds nice and early because last year there were delays with some of them, which held everything up.  This can be done in the cover of darkness in the warmth of the house, so while the sun is shining, I need to get out there and get things done.

Yam harvest

The Yam bed was an easy prepare as it is only a 1x1m bed and ticks a box. The harvest itself was meagre and probably less than the weight of one of the 6 seed yams I put in there last September! I may or may not try again.

This month, along with the left over tasks, has a whole new set of expectations.  I am hoping I haven’t been too ambitious, but they all need to be done, with a couple of wants, thrown in for good measure.

Come again soon – I am really hoping the weather will be on my side for a good solid period so I can get a lot done.

Sarah the Gardener: o)

Is this the start of something wonderful?

It is always questionable as to when to start the growing season.  But today is as good a time as any.  Today is the shortest day and the thing to do on the shortest day is to plant onions.   I know it is an old wives’ tale to be taken with a grain of salt as the planting window is wide open from April to August.  But I like the tradition of it, so why not?!

Onion seedlings

After starting out in the greenhouse the onion seedlings had been hardened off outside. It would seem I have way more than I need so I may need to find them some good homes.

Weed free bed

I started with a weed free bed, that had a mustard cover crop that was chopped, dropped and buried with compost and a scattering of blood and bone and some marvelous Dynamic Lifter, long enough ago that it had all rotted down nicely so was a rich soil to grow a hungry crop for the 6 months it will be in there for.

So, the new growing season starts today with the first crop of the new season going in.  Having said that, the garlic went in in April, to get a jump on the rust, but that that doesn’t count because I was planting other autumn crops then, and technically they are part of last season, well in my mind anyway.

Tomato seedling

The onions are in the old tomato bed and the weather is so mild this winter, there was a hopeful tomato seedling growing among the few weeds I needed to pull out to prepare the bed.

String lines

I’m not a perfectionist in the garden but with a long 5m bed it is good to use string lines or it can get quite wobbly!

I love the new season start.  It is full of hope.  Hope this will be the spring without the stormy conditions, the one without the high humidity in the summer, the one where the pests and diseases stay away.  The one with the most abundant harvest of perfect crops.   There is always hope this will be that magical season where everything lines up perfectly.

Laying out the onion seedlings

The seedlings had already been transplanted once before from the seed raising mix into a potting mix so they could continue to grow strong without checking their growth. I took the opportunity to pot 7 of them into each pot as that is how many I can plant in a 1m row. This makes them so much easier to plant out.

Soaking in seaweed tonic

Soaking the seedlings in seaweed tonic not only helps to avoid transplant shock but it is also easy to tease the roots apart under the water with very little damage.

This isn’t the first time I grew onions.  If I look back, I think I may have been doing it since 2008!  It hasn’t always been easy.  I remember the season where the garden got so snarled up with weeds it was easier to dig everything out and then replant the young onions, hoping I didn’t do too much damage.  And then there was the harvest where the entire crop that was supposed to be a whole year’s supply that was enough to fill two jam jars as pickled onions!   Then there are the whoppers I’ve been growing lately.  I don’t really want whoppers – I’ll take them, but I’d much rather have them a normal size please.  This is what I’m hoping for this season.

onion seedling planting depth

After watering in with seaweed tonic to reduce transplant shock and settle the soil around the roots, the seedling should be where it was in the seed tray, barely below the soil as onions grow their fat bulbs on the top of the soil.

Onion bed planted

And in no time at all 168 onion seedlings were planted. Before we know it they will be all plump and ready for harvest and the days will be warm again.

I had a little notification on my blog this week from the good people at WordPress congratulating me on blogging with them for 10 years!    That seems like such a long time ago, but at the same time it was only yesterday.  Ten years ago, my boys were 5 and 7 and loved helping in the garden.  Now they are teens preparing for life beyond my nest and any help in the garden needs to be paid for…  in cash!

Note taking

Even with grubby fingers, write down as much information as you need to so that next season you don’t need to figure anything out so all you need to do is just plant.

Other onion crops

While I was at it I also planted shallots, elephant garlic, leeks and red onions in the onion overflow bed.

Over the years I would have talked about planting my onions 10 times, and my tomatoes, and my potatoes and all the things.  There are only so many ways you can say this without repeating yourself, or even worse boring everyone – including me!  But going forward on all the shortest days to come, I will be out there in whatever weather the season decides to dish out – today was perfectly sunny, and I will plant my onions, because that is what I do.

The sun rising over the garden on this shortest day of the year

The sun rising over the garden on this shortest day of the year

Come again soon – it is what I do, but I will also look for other exciting green fingered things to do too.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Late Again Tour

It has been my intention this year to do a video tour update every month, but I was a bit slow getting the end of May video done.  I put it down to the nasty lurgy I had in between the months.   But better late than never, here is my end of autumn / start of winter garden tour.

I think I’m in a good space as far as getting things done since I came up with my plan to get through winter.   The best bit of the schedule is putting the expected end date of projects in the week I’d like it done by, rather than giving it an open-ended start date.  According to the chart by the end of this week I should have sorted the bulbs and put up the shed guttering and I’m pleased to say I’ve done both.  I talked about the bulbs last time, but today Hubby the Un-Gardener gave me a hand and the guttering went up on both sheds.  I just need to come up with a collection system, so no water is wasted.

Guttering on the sheds

It turns out guttering isn’t that difficult to install.

Next week I’m hoping to get the back door garden done. It sounds like a big job but if my planning isn’t too optimistic it shouldn’t take long at all.  Aside from that, the expectations aren’t too great so I can progress without having too much on my plate.  So far so good.

Come again soon – if the end of the month tour is to be different from this one, I’ll need to make some good progress.

Sarah the Gardener : o)

All Hands on Deck…

Well actually, just my hands on deck.   The deck in front of the sheds is wide and expansive and well worth every extra dollar it took from my meager budget.  Although at the time it was a bit of a shock.  But it makes such a great working space where I either sit beside my project comfortably at one end or stand beside it like a bench at the other end.   And I have well and truly taken full advantage of the space right across the seasons with the remains of one project blending seamlessly into the start of another. 

Tidy Deck

It feels long overdue to have such a nice and tidy deck!

The problem is, it can become a bit of a dumping ground for the odd item waiting to be tidied away but forgotten about in the excitement of a new project.   Plants up on the deck are less likely to be bothered by problems found down on the ground and collectively having plants together makes them easier to manage.  But this brings its own problems, a plant pot left too long in one spot without pot feet marks the deck.  This comes about for one of two reasons – I didn’t expect it to be there that long, or she’ll be right…  hopefully.  

plants in pots

The plants in fancier pots will get to stay on the deck, but up off the wood. Once the guttering is attached I’ll push them back against the wall.

The thing with a mess is there is a tipping point, when even for a creative clutterer, it becomes too much.   The pots up against the side of the tool shed, being diligently watered by the solar powered Gardena Aquabloom, loved their position over the summer and my pots have never been so well cared for.  However now we are in winter and watering from the sky is reliable enough to keep them alive, I wound up the irrigation tubing and put the Aquabloom away until next season.  

Tulip bulbs

The boofy Red Princess tulips will look fabulous in these black pots. The are mid – late season flowering so hopefully won’t mind their late start.

But what I did notice aside from their bottoms directly on the deck marking the wood was, with no guttering on the shed, they got a lot more water than was desirable.  So now I need to add guttering to the sheds so I can store plants there without fear of drowning.  It would also be good to find some kind of way to collect the water, to use in the dry days.  So, one project always leads on to another.

Making bucket pots

This is the most affordable way I know to get loads of good size pots. I was careful to pick up all the swarf as with the waves so close you are all the more conscious of not allowing plastic to get into the ocean.

Another reason for this drive to tidy the deck was I ended up making quite the mess with my bulbs.  Not only did I have some tulips that were long overdue for planting, although that was down to the very late delivery of my order, but on my list was the vague instruction ‘sort bulbs’.   Some of the daffodils in pots came up blind last season with no flowers and overcrowding was the most likely reason so 6 months ago I made a note to myself to thin them out.  

repurposing bucket handles

I had a lot of bucket handles left over, so I decided to drill holes in each end and will lash them to bamboo poles and use them as plant supports to stop plants from flopping – well that is the plan.

I pulled one lot out of their container and found it would be best to divide the bulbs by quarters.  That would mean at least 15 new pots.   The problem is pots that size are generally not the cheapest, especially when you have to buy loads of them, so I popped along to my hardware store and bought enough cheapy buckets and a handful more for just in case.   Holes were drilled in the bottom, and I set about potting up all the daffodils, a couple of lilies and a few other things in desperate need.  It was probably the wrong time of year to do it, but I had nothing to lose as if I had ignored the problem the plants would have thanked me even less. 

Plant storage area

All the bucket bulbs and a few other plants will hang out here, out of the way until it is their time to shine.

At the end of three messy but fulfilling days, I looked about and saw I had created a bit of a bombsite, there were pots and spilt soil everywhere.  And it just needed a jolly good clean up.  Now when I sit on my deck, I can enjoy the view instead of being overwhelmed by what needs to be done, and there is great satisfaction in removing ‘sort bulbs’ from the list.  It had been there too long.

Come again soon – winter progress is being made.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

No Hibernation for Me

I have spent a lot of time trying to put all my ducks in a row so I can stay on top of things this winter.   Ordinarily winter is a time to wind down and ease up on the gardening, however, I have an exciting project in late spring that will take me away from the garden for 20 days.  This is a long time in late spring to be away.  However, if I am organised this shouldn’t be a problem for the garden.  Once the garden is planted out, it enters a brief sweet spot when it just needs watering, weeding and a tiny bit of tending.   I suspect Hubby the Un-Gardener will get a crash course in gardening and will be required to send daily updates.

winter plan

This is my schedule for the next 14 weeks. I made the items ‘do by’ dates instead of starting points so I know when it should be done by to stop me dragging my heels.

The key to this is being organised.  I have had springs in the past where I constantly feel like I am behind where I should be and often this is down to my own procrastination or inadequate sense of timing where I feel like winter is a long season and I’d have plenty of time to do things.  If you are on a mission, winter is actually a short season when you take out the bad weather days.  It is in these ill prepared seasons that I’m preparing beds moments before planting seedlings.  In an ideal world it is good to allow prepared beds to settle for a week or two to take care of opportunistic weeds, but also allow the micro communities to make the soil all the more welcoming to the new plants.

Onion seedlings

In the spirit of staying one step ahead of the season, the onion seedlings are ready to go into prep-prepared garden beds in a couple of weeks.

Plants still do well in hastily prepared beds, but if the beds were pre-prepared then there is one less pressure in a hectic spring.  At this point a lot of the beds are in a state of control for this time of year – which essentially means, they have been cleaned of all the old crops and are now supporting luscious looking cover crops.   This is great because the nutrients bound by the plants and the soil itself are protected from the harmful effects of the winter weather.

Lupin cover crop

The cover crops do make the garden look lush and alive.

But at some point, it will need to be removed.  I have given up digging them in as that is as tedious as trying to herd kittens and is hard work.  My new plan is to chop them up small enough to drop on the surface, add the other enrichment ingredients and top it off with a nice thick layer of compost.  The key to this is to get it done in good time for the cover crop to rot down and be absorbed into the soil structure.  It is supposed to take 6 – 8 weeks.  But also, it needs to be done if good timing for the cover crop itself – before it starts to flower and become all woody.

Mustard cover crop

This flowering mustard cover crop is ready to be ‘dug in’.

So, it is my plan to form another routine alongside the hoeing and the weeding to prepare a bed or two a week for the spring.  Currently I have 9 beds with cover crops, 3 that a good to go for the new season, 8 that need a good tidy up and will be made spring ready without the cover crop and 5 that are ok for now but will need work later.  And a handful of small beds that need varying degrees of love.   It does seem manageable, but only if I break it up into small bursts of effort.

Garden plan

The state of the vegetable garden right now at the start of winter.

Aside from the vegetable patch, there are other things that need to be done.  Some are larger maintenance tasks.  I need to finish irrigating the entire garden.  I have 2 sectors left but have been put off by all the digging needed to connect all the beds underground.  Winter is the best time for this as the wet sand makes a good trench and won’t cave in on itself as it does when the sand is dry.   Also a complete irrigation system will make it easy for Hubby the Un-Gardener in the late spring.

irrigation

It would be nice to remove these tripping hazards as well as being able to water 6 beds at the touch of a button.

I also need to do some serious work in the sector five, starting with a windbreak.  The wind rolls off the dome and has undermined the strawberry bed which is in desperate need of a repair.  This can coincide with doing the winter sort out of the berries, so I’ll need to fit this in somewhere.

Tractor

I feel confident The Palace is on track because I had a little help.

Then there is building the rock and completing the first room in The Palace.  There is an actual deadline for this so I can’t be tardy.  But I feel confident I’m tracking well to get this done.   Optimistically this winter I also want to landscape at the back door because I’m sick of the sand coming in the house and the wildlife pond needs a bit of love.

Wildlife pond

I have a few plans to spruce up the wild life pond.

And of course, all the computer gardening that is required of me.  Some I enjoy immensely, like writing blogs and articles and some not so much, like doing the weekly accounts for our family business.  But all of the computer gardening falls easily into a rhythm due to the nature of deadlines, and in winter can take priority on frosty mornings.

Heuchara

I am trying to gather my resources well in advance so I can tackle projects without delay. These Heuchara are destined for the backdoor project.

As much as it would be good to stay in bed a little longer on a cold winter day, I need to wrap up warm and push ahead.  I’m not sure if I’ve taking on too much, but if you don’t try you won’t achieve.

Come again soon – this winter needs to be productive.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

And so, in summary.

You may be wondering where I was over the last week.  Certainly not in the garden.  I have been nursing a bog-standard ordinary head cold.  So, the last week after all that effort of trying to #MakeMayCount came to nothing in the final days.  As I look back, I have to ask myself, did I actually make a difference?

rainbow

I hope this rainbow from this morning is a promise winter will be kind.

In previous years I definitely made a difference.  As by the time I got to May, I had lost my gardening mojo and there were a multitude of tasks that I hadn’t got round to doing.  So, it was all a matter of making a giant list and crossing things off one by one.  I think this season was different, because I have some big projects scheduled for later in the year.  I knew from the beginning that I needed to be on top of my game so most of the little tasks were already well taken care of.  And it was the projects I wanted to sink my teeth into.  It is a lot easier to report on progress with loads of little tasks.  But when you’re in the throes of a big project often there isn’t a lot to say except more of the same.  This did frustrate me in May because it made me feel like I wasn’t achieving much.  But when I look back over the whole month. And see where I’ve come, I’m actually quite pleased.

Dead plants

In winter the jobs often aren’t nice to do, but you just need to wrap up warm and get stuck in.

And now here we are. Day two of winter. And I need to keep the pressure on so when the projects for later in the year come round, I’m ready for them.  There are 12 weeks in winter. Not all of those days will be suitable for gardening.  In fact, I suggest more than half of them probably won’t be.  Which is all the more reason to keep the pressure up.  So, what I’m thinking I’ll do is write a giant list with timelines and be super organized.  There are tasks that I can do indoors if it’s rainy to get ahead.  And then there are tasks that when the sun is shining… those magical blue sky winter days, I know exactly what I should be doing.  By putting timelines beside each project, it should also help to keep me where I need to be and not fall behind.

Garlic

There is still plenty of new life in the winter garden and the garlic is looking great but I’ll need to start preventatively spraying for rust so I get a good crop.

Aside from the possibility, well, reality really, of bad weather days there are other things that will hold me back.  Firstly, my own procrastination which frustrates me so much.  But also, my unreliable perception of how long a task will take.  Often, I’ll think to myself that shouldn’t take more than an afternoon or a weekend, but I find myself still toiling away at the same tasks for days, and sometimes weeks.  I need to be honest with myself when making this chart.  And then I actually need to knuckle down and follow my own rules. I am my own boss. But this boss needs to get tough. No slacking is acceptable.

Onion seedlings

The onion seedlings are looking ready to go into the garden in the next few weeks.

So, all in all, May did count. It kept pushing me forward and I need to continue to apply that pressure to myself to ease infinitely more stressful pressure in the coming months. So fun times ahead.

Come again soon – I’ll bring you that list.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

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