We are firmly on the down hill run to spring and the final weeks of winter are imminent. Ordinarily this fills me with excitement and a large portion of my being is jumping with joy. The rest of me really wants to apply some kind of seasonal hand brake. There is still too much to be done. I have my lists and a loose sense of order but my thoughts lately are lingering on the orchard.
Winter is the best time to plant trees and if I want to get back to the point I was in the old garden I really need to get them in this season. I have been mulling over a long list of things I want. The length of the list surprised me, as it is pretty much what we had before. But a couple of trees here and there over ten winters can be almost imperceptible growth. This time I want to be more strategic. I want to plan the fruiting season so there is almost always something in harvest to minimise the glut. I want to select fruit because of their qualities, not based on availability at the garden centre closest to me and purchased on a whim while there for compost!
I still have time to carefully consider this, however there is a bit of a problem in the spot I want to plant them and so I need to address this sooner rather than later so when the time comes to planting things it will go smoothly. There are several large thickets of Boxthorn. Gosh I hate the stuff. You only need to stand on one of those thorns to know all about it. It hurts for a long time.
The early farmers thought it would be a good idea to bring these babies over from South Africa to make a good hedge to keep those colonial cows contained in fields. Unfortunately, the plant likes it here too much and has taken over, especially in coastal areas. I think we will have a long-term relationship with it to get rid of it, but the best way is to chop it back and then dig it out. That sounds like loads of fun.
The good people at Gardena couldn’t have better timing when they asked if I could give their Lopper StarCut a go. In years to come, it will be a pleasure to prune wayward fruit trees but for now it is this is the perfect tool for this job. I don’t mind a tedious, mind numbing chore in the garden. Weeding really doesn’t bother me, so, as long as I am well protected with thick gloves and a telescopic lopper then I think I am prepared to tackle the boxthorn in my soon to be orchard. If I keep in mind the taste of a crisp apple or the juiciness of a sun warmed peach, I should be able to get through it in no time at all. Then we will have a big bonfire and celebrate the efforts with toasted marshmallows and mulled wine.
Wish me luck… I’m going in.
Come again soon – hopefully I won’t look like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards, bleeding from the cuts of a thousand thorns.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
While we were away, I did do a lot of thinking about what needs to be done to get the garden ready for the spring. I have a fixed vision in my head of how I want it to be and it is shaping up nicely. But things were also happening behind the scenes. I’m not all that great with my spatial awareness as shown by when I needed to do a quick readjustment to my plans once I was able to fully assess the space in person. But that was easily sorted.
Not so easily sorted was where I had asked for the 6 loads of good earth from up near Froggies to be put. How was I to know it would be in the way? It seemed like it was tucked up away in a corner. Only once the bulldozer began levelling the garden that the problem became apparent and I could only build half the garden. There just wasn’t enough manoeuvre room in the far end to sort it all out in one go.
So, while I was away the bulldozer got back to work – with help of a tractor with a scoop and the soil was moved to a more sensible place and the rest of the garden was levelled out enough for me to continue with the building of the beds. It was lovely to come home to some progress that occurred in my absence. They even managed to roughly fill most of the beds already constructed.
The garden is now segmented into various stages – some excitingly require the planting of plants and sowing of seeds, others in hard construction and the rest require extracting from my head and into reality.
The best way forward from this point is to write some lists and if I put them here then there is a degree of public accountability to keep me on track. Having said that the motivation to get the garden ready for the spring doesn’t need much of a push. Especially if I’m to be planting out tomatoes in 13 weeks.
First list: Building rest of the beds
A simple list.
Next list: The existing beds.
I think that’s it. There are probably lists within the lists and things I haven’t thought of but I’m on the right track and full of enthusiasm.
Come again soon – I wonder where I’ll start.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
After all of the dramatic events of the last nine months – making the decision to move, preparing the house to sell, not to mention the extremely stressful sale process. That is the only thing you can’t control and stands firmly between you and your dreams. Then making the move to the new place, with the festive season smack bang in the middle of the packing up the worldly possessions stage, added to the intensity of the times we were in. Add to this – not just moving house but moving a house, which was then ravaged by a great storm before being settled firmly on its foundations. Exciting times. During this experience our family was drawn closer together with 100 days living in a caravan – 40 of which had no internet. The upside was it was summer, so it was like a strange camping trip.
Now we are in the house, the garden is being built and on track to be ready for the new growing season it seemed like the ideal time to take a well-earned mid-winter break. For 12 magnificent days we basked in the warmth of the incredible Tahitian sun. I was completely off the clock and focused on relaxing and restoration, so I could approach the new growing season with gusto upon our return. But I can share with you a few images I captured from this beautiful place.
Spring starts in 41 days and it is far from the normal start to my usual growing seasons. I still have beds build and to fill, sort out my under glass growing solution, get a shed, sort out a reliable water source and so much more. So, I have come back from my break rearing to go.
Come again soon – I think there will need to be some lists.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
NB: clicking on the image should bring up a slideshow and captions.
I have a mountain of earth to move. It equates to 6 truckloads of good quality swamp-like soil from ‘up near Froggies’ near where we used to live. I feel confident it will be a fabulous growing medium for my new garden and it appears to be weed free. It has been hanging about for a couple of months now and nothing nasty has reared its head. This is always a great relief when taking delivery of soil from an unknown location.
The earth needs moving for a couple of reasons. The first obvious one is I need to fill beds so I can be ready for the spring. There are a lot of beds, so it should make a good dent in the mountain. However, I have only constructed half the beds I need and want, because of the mountain. The bulldozer can’t adequately manoeuvre around it to flatten out the last little bit of garden in the front corner and the mountain of earth is where I want to put my tool shed and so it clearly needs moving at some point, so I can construct a shed to store my tools.
I should have thought more about it when I had the soil delivered, but the places that I think would have been ideal now – being easy access for digging from and out of the way of everything we have going on now, would have been in the way for the delivery of the house or even more frustrating would have been right where the caravan was that we were living in at the time. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. At the time it seemed like a good spot.
The great thing about this soil and something I will fully appreciate in the summer is it seems to hold water very well. This is a quality my plants will enjoy and will assist my water tank to stretch across the long hot summer I am hoping for this season. When dry this soil is light, crumbly and can best be described as fluffy. When wet it is clay-like, sticky and very heavy. A few days in the sun and it goes back to fluffy with the lightest touch of the rake.
But it is winter and in winter it rains… a lot! So I am trying to move a heavy, sticky mountain most days. It doesn’t make it fun. I have found after a day of rain – it makes good sense to wait until the sun has been on it a good few hours and then take the soil from the top and sides where it isn’t so claggy. It is slow going for me and in trying not to over exert myself I just do a few wheelbarrow loads at a time then go and do something else and come back to the garden a little later.
I have also hijacked our lovely builders helper a couple of times. It is amazing how fast a strapping young lad can move dirt. Hubby the Un-Gardener has also been fulfilling his role to dig on demand, although the demands on his real job are often incompatible with my demands in the garden. All can hope for really is a whole bunch of magical fairies to come along in the night and work their magic. Say it with me “I believe in fairies, I believe in fairies.”
In the meantime I’ll continue to plod on and slowly and steadily, knowing out of sheer determination I will get there in the end.
Come again soon – you’ll find me in the garden – digging.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I feel like I have bitten off more than I can chew, and my eyes are bigger than my stomach but I really want what I want, so I will work hard to get there. My garden is huge. Last time it was built up slowly over 10 years. This time I want it all done in 10 weeks. Actually I have longer than that but it sounds more dramatic that way.
Winter isn’t the best time to be doing all of this either – well it is because it is a behind the scenes kind of a season where nothing much is growing and if I pull it all off, I will meet my goal of being ready for the new season. I am desperate to meet this goal because buying vegetables is beginning to wear thin. I don’t mind buying onion, garlic and spuds when my crops run out… but to have to buy other simple easy to grow things that should be safely tucked up in my freezer or out in the garden to be pulled at my leisure like a fresh carrot…. To me I can see the benefits to growing, in taste, freshness and lack of plastic wrap very clearly and I’m keen to remove the cost of veggies from my weekly shop. This keeps me motivated, that and realising the vision in my head of the finished garden in full flourish – it will look magnificent.
The problem is winter is cold and wet and often times miserable and it is much more preferable to be wrapped up warm by the heater. It is easy to get down on myself for not achieving much on a daily basis. Fortunately I have installed a time lapse camera overlooking the garden and can see just how much I have achieved in as little as one month! I don’t feel so bad about it all now and I’m encouraged to carry on. Every little bit helps. I will get there in the end – determined and exhausted. But it will be well worth it.
You can see for yourself just how far I’ve come by checking out my timelapse footage:
Come again soon – progress is being made and Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
We recently headed on down to the local Fieldays event for farmers and rural types. I’ve been meaning to go for a decade. We’re rural types and with over a 1000 exhibitors and all things country it seemed like the perfect thing for us to do. It was a lovely day out, but my head was all about the garden, and my wallet – in spite of all the great deals, was intrinsically linked to the house and at this point is a finite resource to be guarded tightly. Fortunately, my heart was blinded to all the exciting possibilities found at many points along the crowded paths and bursting stalls.
However with the garden foremost in my head, the thing that drew my eye was the wood chips on the ground to mark out trade sites and keep down the mud in the paths. I kept wondering what they would be doing with it after the show – there must have been acres of it in nice thick layers. It turns out the event centre reuses it, shame. Now for me right now, picking up a truck load or two of preloved woodchip at a bargain basement price would be the deal of the century. Alas not to be.
But it did get me thinking about my garden paths. It is still a bit early to be making a decision but not too early to start thinking about it. What would be the ideal medium for the ground between the gardens. I put a post out on Facebook and Twitter to see what others used and what they thought.
It basically came down to about four main options each with pros and cons. It was good to see what others thought, and added to my own experiences and I think I have come up with a decision. However I’m open to persuasion. So please let me know your thoughts. Here’s mine.
I love the look of well mowed lawn between the beds. It is comfortable and cooling to sit on in the summer as I tend the beds and isn’t to difficult to set up – scatter seeds and wait. The last garden has grass all around and after a mow it looked stunning.
However, the new garden is about the same size as the last one and will introduce the same problems. Due to the MS, keeping it mowed was exhausting. I tried mowing in sections so I wouldn’t get exhausted, but then I never achieved that lovely well mown look all across the place. It often left me too stuffed to actually do the pottering about. I have tried getting others to help but they often did more harm than good as a trailing cucumber vine was mulched to a pulp, a hanging pea shoot became ensnared in the passing handle and ripped ruthlessly from the earth, among other things. Non gardeners just don’t get it.
Then there are the edges the mower can’t reach. I find a weed eater is a bit unwieldy in a tight spot and I got quickly fed up with the bit of plastic snapping off the strimmer line as it repeatedly hit the sides of the beds. I don’t want to add unnecessary plastic to my garden. I’ve had help in this area too in the past, resulting in a severe haircut for my poor onions! So I found the only way was up close and personal with shears. It was good in I was in regular connection with the garden, but it was extremely time consuming.
I do love a lawn but on an energy output scale Hubby the Un-Gardener has said no for my own good.
STONES AND GRAVEL
I have written these off right from the start. I have experience here. In our very first garden when we didn’t know what we were doing, we put in a lovely white pebble garden with a few poor unfortunately plants to suffer in. We put down weed mat and then stones, but it didn’t take long before we lost control. The leaves blew in and landed among them, plants crept across from under the fence and in the end we had a lovely rich compost above the weed mat with nasty weeds thriving above with their roots piercing the pores in the mat making it next to impossible to pull up. Add to that the weight of the now invisible white stones that had sunk to the depths of the debris and clearing it all up (to make the house presentable for sale) was something I don’t care to repeat any time soon. Without the weed mat the gravel will quickly be lost in my sand and I’m not keen on weed mat at all so however lovely it looks on day one… It’s a no from me.
This would make it my dream garden. Maybe a lovely pattern and play on shapes, sizes and colours. It would be low maintenance, weed free and look fabulous. There is just one drawback. Cost. I priced it up. It would be over ten thousand dollars new! Eek. I think this will need to be a long term plan to source enough second hand ones for free or next to nothing and then one day when I have enough I could make it wonderful. Or I could learn to make pavers – but then there’d still be a cost… So that’s a no for now.
So that leaves
A lot of people use these. The common complaint seems to be the blackbirds make a mess of them and they break down quickly and need replacing often. I’m not worried about the birds – it would be contained within the outer walls of the beds. But the thing that sold me for now is the continuous break down of the chips themselves – I don’t see it so much as my paths being eroded, but my poor sandy soil that lies beneath the entire space will get a continual nutrient boost, not to mention the benefit it will bring to microbial communities in the garden. The paths will have more of a job than just covering the sand and being worked upon. They will be working just as hard as everything else.
Wood chips it is… now where to find several truck loads at a good price….
Come again soon – good things take time.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I am champing at the bit to start moving soil, so I can start planting out my winter crops. But I seem to have an inbuilt self-integrity mode that just won’t allow me to cut corners in the garden. I just can’t cheat on myself. A bulldozer is not for fine work – it’s not subtle. It does a great job of clearing the ground, but it won’t give a polished smooth surface. The ground is flat but there lumps and bumps in places. A lesser version of myself in a parallel universe would say it is flat enough and carry on with the next stage.
But as I stand at the bottom of the garden and gaze across I can see it is a tad wonky. My last garden was wonderfully wonky, and I embraced that. It evolved over time and beds were thrown together with varying techniques and a she’ll be right attitude. This garden is different. It is my dream garden and it would bother me for the rest of my days if it was out of kilter. I have time and opportunity and it is only my desire to get to the next stage that stands between me and a nicely laid out garden.
Our amazing builder watched me with amusement as I juggled a level and 1 metre lengths of wood and couldn’t bear it anymore so showed me how to use the string line. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again – knowledge is power, and I had a huge ‘aha’ moment. Oh, so that is how it works.
The garden has a gentle slope that runs down to the house and if it was to be completely flat the bulldozer would have had to move mountains more earth for little gain. The slope is very minor and gives character. So, the string line was tied to a couple of rebar poles and pulled tightly at the top and bottom of the garden across 3 beds, and down one side. Any bits sticking out in a wonky fashion was adjusted back into line with a tap of my boot. And when all adjusting was done it was moved to the other side of the bed and levelling was repeated.
But there is more to a string line… it can check the other dimension and while the sides of the garden line up beautifully the tops seemed to go up and down like the hind leg on a donkey. I hadn’t really noticed it in some of the beds, but others were blatantly obvious, and I knew tweaking was needed.
This is where having sand is such a blessing – it is the material used to level off paving stones etc and I have it in abundance. The other blessing is it is winter, and it has been raining… a lot. So, the sand is damp and compacts well. In the height of summer, it would be a completely different story. It would be light, free draining and blow about the place and certainly wouldn’t stay put.
Using the shovel, I gently levered the bottom of the bed on the side that needed lifting a little and then packed some sand underneath until the bed looked level against the string line. Then I removed the shovel and continued to poke soil under the bed with my fingers – I’m a hands on gardener for sure. Then I grabbed a couple of blocks of wood from the off-cut pile from the building project and used them kind of like a couple of mini bulldozers to ram sand into the gaps and soft spots and compact them as hard as I could. I soon found an easy rhythm and the garden started to look even better than I first thought. I quickly worked my way through the first half of the half of the garden I had already built.
It won’t take more than a jiffy to finish off the rest and then I can begin the fun part. Well it seems like it will be fun from the starting point. Ask me again after I’ve filled three beds! So, the great lesson to be had here is ‘do it once – do it right.’ I won’t regret the time taken to do this extra step.
Come again soon – there is loads going on (get it – loads and loads of dirt!)
Sarah the Gardener : o)
If you want to listen along you can check it out here:
Sometimes life sweeps you away with what you are doing and you barely notice the passing of time. That was how this June has been so far. A hive of activity with the days disappearing into a blur. I am not entirely sure how we have found ourselves one third of the way through this month. The weather was magnificent and the garden called to me. The work, while involved heavy lifting, was fun and easy.
Half of the garden has been put together and I’m happy with that. I have arranged my crop rotation and planting plan so the winter crops are on this side of the garden. Which means I can get on with filling the garden with earth and planting out my onion and garlic, all going well, on the shortest day.
The other half of the garden is still not level and the bulldozer needs to do more work. The problem is the large pile of earth is in the wrong place, but how was I to know that all those weeks ago when the garden was just a dream?! So I need to burst a foo foo valve moving as much as I can, into the new beds. Then the bulldozer can come back and level out the rest of the garden and bed building can recommence.
In the meantime I will most likely be out there – rain or shine, moving a mountain.
Come again soon – progress is being made.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Oh and… this week I am starting a new thing I’ve been thinking about doing for a while now, but have only just got around to. I’m voice recording my blog so you can listen along instead of reading it. You can check this out here:
It is always the way – you just get to sink your teeth into an exciting project and something comes along and throws a spanner in the works. We had a productive couple of days with the bulldozer sorting out my land. Gone are the undulating lumps and bumps. All but the merest hint of Kikuyu grass is gone and the base for my garden is clean sand. Which is manageable at this point. I just need to come up with a system to stop the inward grass encroachment from around the edges.
It was going so well and then we had an event that I think will be just part of our new normal. There was another storm. Nothing like that horrible one when the house was up on jacks, but still bad enough to have me up all night listening to the wind whistle through holes and gaps in the house that at that stage still hadn’t been repaired. By my count this will have been the 6th storm since we moved here on the 19th January. The only consolation is these storms aren’t isolated to our property and large swathes of the country are also experiencing traumatic weather events. It isn’t me, it is you too!
The wind is pretty wild and the ocean is as marbled as an expensive piece of wagu beef. Sitting in the dark in the middle of the night watching the sky light up with a dramatic electrical storm out to sea, framed perfectly through the bay window, is no longer terrifying – it is spectacular! Even in the worst weather I still love living here. It makes you feel so alive. However, it isn’t that conducive to getting things done outside. The building work has loosened a lot of the land and exposed the sand (aside from my project which doesn’t count in this as it is my sand with a noble purpose) and once you get the wind behind that, it is like a brutal exfoliant or a sharp sand blast. It is much better to just stay inside.
The problem with this is, I really want to push things forward and get things done. I’m done with waiting. I’ve done my time and 120 days is my limit. Then I remembered my seedlings, sown back in the beginning of April. In their short lives they have moved several times and been through a couple of good storms, and still looked good. They were certainly strong little plants, but the time had come to move them out of the seed raising mix and into bigger pots and a good quality potting mix.
But it was yucky outside and while the sun was shining, out of nowhere an intense rain burst would come up from the beach and then disappear as quickly as it came yet left everything freezing cold and soaking wet. Then I remembered – it isn’t so much that we have a building site in our home, we are living in a building site. The builder had set up his saw bench in living room. The electrician was working on the fuse box in a sea of wire clippings. So, if they could turn the house in to work space, then so could I and set myself up in the kitchen.
As I scooped the soil into the pots I began to daydream a little. All of these little seedlings will end their lives in the big garden. It is so close I can almost feel it. But at the same time there is a lot to be done to get there. The first step is to lose time in a wild afternoon in a kitchen with a light layer of sawdust dusting the surfaces and digging into the rich soil as I repot tiny plants loaded with an incredible future. Life is good.
Come again soon – there is some heaving lifting in my immediate future.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
* Exciting news: a lovely range of amazing Gardena Hand Tools will be available in NZ from 25 June 2018.