(A paid post with the good people from GARDENA NZ)
Historically, back in the day I was a bit of a malingerer, I would be slow to clear away the seasons end. Not because I was lazy, but to acknowledge the season was over was too much to bear. I’m just as bad with my Christmas decorations and this year they made it to Valentine’s day before being packed back into their boxes.
Not these days for the veggie patch. I have begun to appreciate how much nicer it is to look upon a garden that is not full of the dead, dying or weedy. A heavily mulched bed with a thick layer of compost is more pleasing than tangled crispy brown vines that have long since given up the ghost. Besides getting in early with the compost layer means the worms and other micro communities have plenty of time to work their magic and reinvigorate the soil ready for next season.
The same can be said for cover crops. There is something lovely about a lush green bed full of life when the options for things to grow is no where near as vast as in the summer. Unless I want a garden filled with broccoli, swedes and silverbeet, the only option is cover crops or let the spare beds lie fallow.
So, I have begun the task of packing up summer and putting it away until next year. The pumpkin bed has been cleared of all trace of the once life supporting vines and any opportunistic weeds that had snuck in there. As the pumpkin isn’t part of the crop rotation, I have sown a mustard cover crop that will help restore the soil.
A mustard cover crop is also a great indication of the quality of the soil. With an even application of the seed, a poor or uneven germination will highlight problem areas in the soil. Then monitoring the quick growing plants as they grow can also give vital information. If the plants struggle, the soil will need more love to be able to support the next crop. If it bursts into life with exuberant foliage can mean possibly too much nitrogen which isn’t ideal, except possibly if the next crop is a leafy green. What you need is a good steady, uniform growth across the whole bed. But make time to remove it before it flowers so it doesn’t become too woody to break down easily and definitely before it sets seed, so it doesn’t become a weed.
As for the cucumber bed, well it wasn’t the best season anyway. At least the lemon cucumbers provided us with an abundance, but the rest of the cucumbers and gherkins had a terribly poor harvest with a mere taster from each plant. The only way I could fill a jars of pickles was to let the gherkins that did show up grow larger than I normally would. I’m in too minds now. Am I being over optimistic and are the net trellises too tall or do they need to be shortened further? (I did drop them down a little bit this season.) Or was it just a bad season and next year they will willingly scramble to the top?
We will have to wait until next season, because for now, in a crop rotation revamp, the garlic will take their place shortly. I had the garlic before the cucumber last season and following the leafy greens. The problem is the leafy greens are still there doing their thing and will be until the spring so the garlic can’t move over into its bed, and certainly not now, the rainbow beet is flourishing. I looked at all the other crops in the sector 3 cycle and the root crops are in all winter, the broad beans, even though I don’t really like them, they are lovely to grow over the winter for a bit of height and will make the bean bed ‘occupied’, so the only logical thing is to swap the cucumbers for the garlic. The cucumbers end long before I need their bed, the beans before them will nourish the soil for the garlic and the leafy greens will be long finished before it is warm enough to plant out the cucumbers.
Sometimes sorting out the finer details can take a bit of fiddling about, but I think this should be the last fiddle in my crop rotation setup. These days my to do list for the week is set with a wander around the garden deciding what crops need to come out next.
Come again soon – I think a garden tour is due.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
At this time of year, the harvest settles down to a trickle. And the immediate demands from the garden aren’t nearly as intense as they were a month ago. Now that we are passed the autumn equinox it is easy to get a little complacent, especially now the mornings are getting a little chilly and there is a heavy dew on the grass. But then you realize we haven’t had rain of any significance in over 10 days. The only telltale sign is things were starting to get a little droopy. How did I not notice we hadn’t had rain? It would seem I have been drifting through the days doing what needs to be done, but not paying any attention.
Fortunately for the peppers they can use bright screaming red to catch my eye and when passing through the garden, all of a sudden, they become obvious. The pumpkins on the other hand. I knew I was waiting for the leaves to die off, but mistook their signs of harvest for plants gasping for a drink. But no, they were done, and good to go.
All of them except the butternuts. They looked like they were heading off in the death throws direction but seem to have found a second wind and put out new flowers and fruit. At the time I wasn’t sure these newcomers would make it, but if this good weather continues, I think I may double my harvest. Some years we aren’t so lucky.
So, for the pumpkins I picked I washed them in a mild disinfectant solution to remove all the dirt and debris and left them in the sun on the deck to dry off and help their skins to cure a little bit. A couple of the buttercups have a few dings in them and won’t keep so I’ll bring them in to the kitchen and we’ll use them straight away. The kids reckon they don’t like pumpkin, but they will also tell you what I have to say about that “If I went to the trouble to grow it, you can go to the trouble of eating it!”
It wasn’t exactly a stella year for pumpkins and a couple of them are quite small. I like to think of them as lunchtime pumpkins that I can cook up and eat, just for me without anyone complaining about how horrible pumpkin tastes to them. I think my big problem is the wind situation – their beds are beyond the protection of the main wind break. I picked up some screens at the garden centre today and so this should improve things for next year.
I still have to remove all the dead pumpkin foliage and clean up the beds. Then I’ll sow a cover crop. I haven’t decided if I’ll go for mustard or lupin. Mustard will help clean up the soil, but the lupin will add bulk organic material. Maybe I should go for both – either together or one after the other? I’m not sure which. But as these beds aren’t in the crop rotation it is important to put something in there in between seasons.
The peppers, because they are mostly shop bought seedlings because of my disaster early on in the season of having to rip them out and burn them because of disease, they are running a little late. But there were enough red ones to get a good harvest, although I’m not sure what I will do with most of them just yet as we still have oodles of chili sauces from last year. Chili sauce isn’t exactly something you rush through, not in the same way that the kids can get through a jar of jam in a sitting if I let them!
I was, to be honest, quite disappointed in my jalapeno. Once again, the harvest was really meagre and after discovering cowboy candy last year, I really want to make a load more. As I was picking the red cayenne peppers, I noticed how fleshy and plump they were looking and did a “hmmm I wonder” So I plucked off plenty of green ones thinking they’ll do instead.
I tentatively sliced one open, just hoping they were indeed fleshy because otherwise I’d need to have a long hard think about what I’d do with half a kilo of green cayenne peppers. The looked just like the jalapeno – well almost, not quite as fleshy but a good enough substitute, just a little bit skinnier.
It wasn’t until I was mostly through slicing them up (bravely or foolishly without gloves – you choose) it occurred to me I should see if in fact they do make a good substitute by checking out the Scoville scale. Turns out Jalapeno are sitting at 2500 – 8000 units so nicely toasty with a good degree of burn. Then I checked out cayenne peppers: 30,000 – 50,000! Opps. But I was committed. Not only had I pretty much chopped them all up, but I’d also prepared the sugar / vinegar solution and it was boiling up on the stove.
It can’t be that bad really? The sugar and the vinegar are supposed to help reduce the heat. But just to be sure, I put all the chopped chilies in a container with a lid and gave it a jolly good shake to release as many seeds as possible. This should help lower the temperature a little… I hope. So, time will tell in 4 – 6 weeks when they have matured. Hopefully, they’ll be edible.
Come again soon – the pumpkin bed isn’t the only one I need to clear. It’s almost time to plant my early garlic!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
It has been a long and difficult couple of weeks outside of the garden. Sometimes life is like that but that makes the garden all the more of a sanctuary from all that worries you. Fortunately, there hasn’t been too much to do in the garden as we are at the end of the season and not at the beginning. I think if I had to add the busyness of spring to my recent woes, I probably would have gone crazy!
In some of my down time I did a bit of garden related binge watching and soaked up anything I could find that would interest me and take me to the garden place that wasn’t possible in reality. While doing the binging I watched a show where Alan Titchmarch said something that I had being trying to get my head around for months and I’d even attempted complex mathematical equations. But the way he said it in a short simple sentence made the penny drop and it all made sense. He said: “The height of the windbreak x 5 is the distance of protection it will give.”
Looking at my garden, I can see it playing out in real life and now I know the magic formula I can see the invisible line where there is no longer protection from the wind, especially when a salt laden blow straight up from the ocean whips across our land. So now I have to work on improving the garden in a way that offers protection and is aesthetically pleasing.
I ended up having one of those ‘good ideas’ and initially I envisioned it on a much grander scale than it turned out. It started when I was walking past the compost pile and on the top were all my Muehlenbeckia trimmings from when I took some cuttings. All the leaves had fallen off and they just looked like a bit of a mat. Then I got to wondering and grabbed a piece of plastic trellis and quickly wove them through a section to see what it looked like and if it would make a pleasing and useful windbreak… It looked promising.
I just happened to have a new roll of black plastic trellis and an out of control Muehlenbeckia patch that needed attention. As this was all I needed I set to work pruning off long branches and stems and begun to slowly weave them in and out of the trellis until the squares seemed full. I whiled away a few hours, losing myself in my work.
At the end of that first day, I realized two things. Firstly, I need to wear gloves as the edges of the plastic trellis were quite brutal on my finger quicks as I pushed and pulled stubborn foliage in and out, over and over again. The other thing was, I hadn’t got very far, but I liked what I saw so there was no abandoning the project as an ambitious but impossible good idea. It was an ambitious idea, just not impossible. I just needed to be patient and approach it with a slow and steady frame of mind.
Eventually after days and days of snatched time here and there, I wove the last of the Muehlenbeckia through the last squares, stood back and felt proud of what I had achieved and delighted that I hadn’t given up. It wasn’t a close weave, as the plant material dried out it had shrunk a little, but this was the whole point, a wind break is supposed to slow the wind not block it completely.
I had decided I would use the woven panel to protect my rhubarb. Every season it starts with great potential, however, after a few spring storms it is completely knocked back and is a shadow of what it could have been. I grabbed some spare rebar posts I had and hammered them into the ground to a good depth and then carefully but firmly and thoroughly cable tied the panel to the posts. It does have a bit of flex in it, but I guess this will be ok and will help to slow the wind.
It looks pretty good there in the garden and knowing how much effort went into it makes me feel all the more pleased. Having said that, I don’t know how long it will last – hopefully longer than a season and I’d be pleased if it lasted a couple of years, but only time will tell. When it comes time to replace it, I doubt I’ll weave in some more Muehlenbeckia. I was patient this time, but knowing the effort taken, I’ll probably skip it next time and buy something suitable.
Come again soon – I can see another harvest needing attention.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
NB: Click on the small images for their descriptions.
Every year I sow melon seeds with great anticipation. I like a bit of variety with my melons and I have the room, so I start off with Sugar Baby Watermelon. It is always reliable and even in a poor summer the chances are you will get something. This season I got 4 somethings. Most were around the 5 kg mark which is pretty big for a Sugar Baby. Then I sow some of the giant watermelons. The ones found in the Richard Scarry picture books when I was a kid. I’d never seen one in real life as a child, so I still get a little thrill having them in my garden. But this season the plants for whatever reason didn’t establish in my garden, no matter how many times I sowed seed.
Then I pop in some other melons, normally an orange rock melon, a green honeydew and something else. This season my something else sounded so sophisticated I just had to grow it… Apparently, it paired well with cheese and walnuts and a sweet dessert wine. I could just see myself of an autumnal evening with my cheese and walnuts and sipping away at my sweet dessert wine. Unfortunately, that isn’t how my life looks right now, and evenings are spent in a more chaotic fashion. Maybe in a few years when my birds have flown the nest. Having said that, the melon was a bit bland, so maybe not… unless it was the season?
My rock melon and honeydew let me down too, but in a different way. They were eager to please and started out by setting a multitude of cute little fuzzy fruit. But then the powdery mildew hit and as it is an inevitable summer occurrence that quickly overwhelms plants, over the years I have lost the will to fight it and what will be will be. It certainly gives me a much-needed break from the zucchinis. If you are patient the plants tend to pick up again towards the end of the season and grow through the problem and proudly wave fresh unblemished leaves at you. This is often enough to ensure a good harvest of most of the victims in my garden.
However, this season it must have been terribly bad as all my other melons curled up their toes and died, but not before presenting tennis ball sized fruit, perfectly ripe and sending their sweet scent into the air as a final act. I was quite pleased with myself as I managed to harvest each and every one at the perfect point when the stem separates easily and the fruit falls into my hand. In previous seasons it is a race again the rats who seem to notice the melons in the darkness between a melon being unripe one day and ripe the next and beat me to them.
Unfortunately, the enormously and deliciously sweet watermelons were more favorable than the small brown and green orbs hanging out in the fridge and were ignored every time melon was up for the daily sweet treat. Each time I reached into the fridge for milk, I felt a sense of impending loss. If I didn’t do something soon the entire crop would be wasted. I needed a plan. A quick search on the great big internet suggested serving them in a fancy way – wrapped in prosciutto or as a sorbet. I could have gone with the sorbet, but my last attempt at ice cream using the left-over cream and custard from Christmas hadn’t been an overwhelming success.
Feeling a little burned from the previous frozen experience I remembered a dusty old cookbook with really old recipes for jams, pickles, and chutneys from before my time. There had to be something in there that had fallen out of popularity that I could inject life into. It turns out 1963 was a good year! There was an easy recipe for melon jam that only needed melons, sugar, and lemons! Just the kind of solution I was looking for. So, I whipped it up and am so pleased to have 11 scrumptious jars of melon jam I know the kids will spread thickly across they hot toast! And so, my crop is saved from being overlooked and will now be the star of the pantry.
Now I need to do the dishes, everything I touch seems to be sticky!
Come again soon – Autumn is really making itself at home and so I need to embrace it rather than continue to mourn the passing of summer.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
NB: I’m not a great one for following recipes exactly, but I have explained what I did in the words below the images so for the ‘recipe’ of sorts, click on all the pictures.
I have a lot on my computer gardening plate. But I need to keep my hand in the soil to keep the garden on track and stop my eyes going square in front of the screen. It is so nice to be able to take breaks to be responsible by indulging in a great love right outside my office door.
Since autumn began two days ago, I have:
I finished tidying up the tomato bed and removed the wires and posts. It is always a sad moment, not having tomatoes in the garden heralds the end of summer in such a finite way. To heal the soil from supporting the sickly tomatoes for so long I sowed a mustard seed cover crop. As the weather is still quite warm, they should germinate and grow quick and so I should have them chopped down and incorporated into the soil before I plant the onion seedlings in the middle of the winter. This bed is under control.
I also gave my poor old lime in a pot its change of season slow-release fertilizer. This poor old lime in a pot has lost it’s leaves and stood naked twice! Once through neglect and the other time due to poor positioning and the wind whipped all the leaves away in a single storm. Now it is tucked well within the windbreak right by my office, so I walk past it every day and it calls to me for attention. I can’t avoid it if I tried! Lemons are such hungry plants to it is good to feed them with a citrus specific food often but as per the directions. My poor old lime in a pot is looking up and even has new leaves starting to burst into life. I think next season it will be in a good position to flower and fruit.
I also managed a quick break to plant out some lettuce seedlings I bought last week but hadn’t got round to planting yet. My lettuce succession planting is always hit and miss at the best of times, but right now I have 3 lettuces at their peak and once they are gone there will be a bit of a break. I do have some seeds trying to germinate, so hopefully they will close the gap a little.
Going back into my office something caught my eye that completely surprised me. Another Bird of Paradise seedling had popped up from seeds I sowed back in the spring! Initially three plants popped up and I thought that was my lot. So, this new one was a lovely surprise and completely justifies my theory – never abandon a barren seed tray! Well only if it contains something you really want to grow, or it cost you a lot of money!
Back in the office was a bit chaotic. Fennel the Cat and Jasper the Dog don’t really get on but tolerate each other in the same space. The problem is they both like being with me in the garden and in the office. Jasper made himself comfy on the chair, so Fennel decided the best place to be comfy was on my desk, in front of my computer. So, I cleared a space in the corner, and put her cat house there and she waltzed right in there and fell asleep, so I worked way to the sound of animal snoring in stereo! I just need to remember she is there at the end of the day. Jasper is a light sleeper and will jump up as soon as I move so there is no danger of him being left in the office.
Come again soon – so far autumn is being kind. I just need to keep things balanced.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
In order to decide what to grow, (see yesterday’s post) I needed to assess the state of the garden and see what can go where, and what is still lingering. It is always good to do a state of the garden review and make some to do lists and help ease into the change of direction and focus a new season can bring. For weeks now I have plodded along just doing the same old same old with little change to my water, weed, harvest routine. So, this is what I came up with:
At this point this section doesn’t need anything extra at all. I just need to remember houseplants get taken care of at the same time as this sector. I lost another couple of house plants recently because I forgot about them. I wonder if I buy bigger plants and spend more money on them if I will remember to care for them?!
The pumpkins are in their late stages, the luffa are fine. Most of the berries have come to an end so this section really doesn’t need much doing to it right now.
That doesn’t seem so unmanageable.
Come again soon – the sun is back, and I need to make the most of it while it lasts.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I put socks on yesterday. I’m probably just being a bit namby pamby, but my feet got cold. Not winter cold by any stretch of the imagination. But that shock cold when the temperatures you have been used to up until recently have you eying up anything that can remotely be used as a fan to wave air around you to enjoy the cooling effect, plummet significantly by about 5°C. This is definitely noticeable. In the reverse season when temperatures are climbing, a jump up by 5°C would be embraced as a good thing. But a jump down – not so much in the tail end of summer. The weather is all over the place right now!
But now my head is in the right place for the winter garden, making plans and sowing seed. Ordinarily in a normal summer when the hot conditions stretch seamlessly and endlessly into autumn, I am in denial about the need to start seed so soon, and invariably run late.
I have had a look at the garden plan and have decided I need to sow:
Now that I have written it down it doesn’t seem like it is as enormous a task as spring sowing, and certainly not as daunting. I’ll get on to it first thing tomorrow.
Hopefully, the temperatures will rise again to give us a last hurrah before finally making its slow and steady decent across the autumn and into the chill of winter.
Come again soon – I need to fight the urge to get cozy indoors, summer isn’t over yet!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
We are still in summer, repeat after me ‘we are still in summer’. It is becoming a little bit hard to believe right now. After the rain eventually came there has been a perceivable shift in the way things feel. That dry crispness that you feel underfoot when you walk across the lawn is gone. Most mornings there is now a bit of a dew which is helping to soften the lawn and slowly bring back the green colour.
The temperatures have dipped. The air is still alive with the sound of cicadas creating the perception of summer heat, but it is a different heat from the boiling hot of a few weeks ago. There is a chance the conditions may return to those heady days, but we are definitely slipping into more comfortable balmy conditions.
The garden is also telling me things are changing and if you dilly dally you may miss the peak moments of harvest. I have been going through the motions with the garden, with the weeding, watering, and harvesting what I need when I need it. But there haven’t been that many opportunities for slaving over the hot stove preserving the harvest. This is mainly because psyllid have all but ruined my tomato harvest.
Looking around the garden now, there are things that have been on a slow boil and am only just coming ripe, others I have been taking a bit here and a bit there, but before long the plants will bolt and there won’t be anything left. Making the harvest last throughout the winter until it is ready to harvest again is why my garden is so big.
The garden is in an orderly control so these days instead of having dirt under my nails from toiling in the soil, the tips of my fingers are soggy from the constant plunging in water that comes from preserving the harvest. Some things are just vac packed and popped in the freezer, others have been dehydrated, some just need storing in the shed as is, and others get pickled. I’ve even done a spot of baking.
Kitchen gardening is just as rewarding and garden gardening and as the season inevitably begins to transform into something else there will be many more opportunities to spend time indoors, capturing summer in jars and freezing it to shine on cold grey days.
Come again soon – Seeds need to be sown again.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
NB: Click on each image for a detailed descriptions of what has been going on in the garden and in the kitchen.
It has been a long hot summer. The kind of endless summer you remember as a kid, when the sun shines for days on end and it seems like it will last forever. You go to bed at night with the windows open, and then wish you had some kind of screen to stop the enormous moths coming in and divebombing your head.
But for the gardener this weather is bittersweet. While it is nice to garden in good weather and summer plants thrive in full sun, one eye is firmly on the water tank levels and in the increasingly dry soil. For a while there, it doesn’t really matter too much if you check the weather forecast or not, it is what it is and it will be fine. But after a month without significant rain, you end up searching the skies and as many weather apps as you can, looking for the hint of moisture on the horizon.
So, this morning I had to go into town, the kids are back at school again and I delight in the return of the routine that I celebrated the end of just a couple of months ago. I also had a few chores to run and in the short dash between the car and the store I got soaked. It was a good steady rain, the kind that soaks deep into the ground without overwhelming it and I rejoiced. Hooray the rains have come.
Only that excitement was completely dashed as I headed for home. Beyond the muggy grey clouds above me I could see blue on the horizon. Surely that wasn’t over our house? My hope and expectation faded as I got closer and closer to home.
We did get some rain; the ground was wet. But nothing like the downpour in town. It wasn’t even registering on my weather station and Wilbur the Wheelbarrow hadn’t even covered his bottom. I scrapped back the soil hopefully and the dampness had only penetrated the shallowest of depths. With the sun forcefully pushing through the clouds I resigned myself to the fact that we had missed out once again, I set up the irrigation system and proceeded to water the thirsty plants.
The boffins are promising a lot of rain tomorrow so maybe we’ll get ours then, but I’m not holding my breath.
Come again soon – I’ve been doing some kitchen garden with the harvest.
Sarah the Gardener : o)