SARAH THE GARDENER

Control at last

Finally, the weather blessed us with a fabulous weekend.  It was hot, blue sky amazing and perfect for time in the garden.  You could almost see the plants breathing a sigh of relief as they stretched out their leaves to receive the full impact of the sun.   And of course, I was out there revelling in it too, with a thick layer of sunscreen and a large bottle of water.  It was a fabulous day.

Sunny days

A full and vibrant garden, blue skies and warm weather. It doesn’t get better than this.

It is amazing how much you can get through when the conditions are perfect, the garden has never looked better.  The beds are now all mostly weed free – except the raspberries.  I have completely written off the bed, for now.  The flooding in the spring didn’t agree with them and they never really recovered so I abandoned the poor plants that languished there to their own devices.   When the weather cools down I’m going to completely empty out the bed and start again with fresh plants, fresh soil and an extra layer on my raised bed so we won’t have a repeat of the soggy season.

overgrown raspberries

Not my proudest moment, but my raspberries are not looking their best.

So aside from the shameful raspberries everything else looks as magnificent as could be for a season that hasn’t actually been ideal.   It is so nice to have the garden in a place of order and control so I can go forward into the year proactive not reactive and enjoy it a whole lot more.

Sunny days

The colours seem bright and beautiful when illuminated by the full sun.

Being in control also means you have a greater appreciation for what is going on.  It’s not  – “oh no the gherkins are ready again, I need to find time to process them…” It allows you time to examine the garden in detail and prepare for a coming glut, be instantly reactive to problems and enjoy just messing about in the garden instead of tackling it.

Painted mountain corn pollen tassels

The great colours on the painted mountain corn highlights the pollen tassels so well.

As I worked my way across the garden this weekend I was able to notice the cycle of the garden, as the sweetcorn is on the verge of being ready, the strawberries are pretty much over and now is the time to consider what it needs for the next season.  Then of course are the seeds still to be sown for the cold season to come.  Nothing stands still and the life of the garden is a constantly entertaining thing, if you don’t allow it to overwhelm you and get lost in the ‘out of control’.

I managed to capture some of this summer sunshine and preserve for viewing in cold weather so I can feel the sun radiate from the screen and onto my frozen winter face.  You can check out this sunshine too in my latest video talking about how to tell when sweetcorn is ready and what to do with end of season strawberries and a bit of a wee tour of my fabulous in control summer garden.

Come again soon – we shall be talking about cabbages and kings.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

Making plans… again

Well now we find ourselves on the front door of February.  Late summer.   And now in what should be the height of seasonal fun and frivolity, with BBQs every night and picnics every day, swimming at the beach at every opportunity, basking in all that is glorious about the sunny season.  But I’m just not feeling it.  It is a lovely blue sky day… and an hour weeding in the late afternoon works up a sweat – not that I sweat, ladies ‘glow’ – but yesterday most of the day was raining and gloomy.

Brassica bed

Gaps are appearing everywhere, as we slowly work our way through the broccoli, cauliflower and kohlrabi, the brassica bed becomes more gappy than a 6 year old’s smile.

As much I hate to relinquish my hopes for a descent summer, now is the time to plan for winter.  Normally I miss this window as I don’t want to believe it is possible to let go of the wonderful endless, blue sky days and leave it until the very last minute.   This year I’m just keen for a fresh start and so shall plan meticulously, weighing up the pros and cons of each variety that will grace my garden over the winter months, that will lift my heart when I look out on a bleak, cold day and see thing growing and not just a sea of mud.

Luffa

This luffa is in the middle of my cucumber bed and I love to grow them, but takes an age to be ready, long after the cucumbers are gone. This delays this bed from being used for anything useful as the season draws to a close.

I will consider the garden as a whole and work out what will be best to go where, instead of just filling gaps like I normally do.  This leads to so much difficulty as often the crop isn’t finished by the time I need the garden for the spring things.  Having said that, this could also be down to my poor organisation in previous years that leads me to the late start to the cool crop season.

Odds and sods bed

This bed is also opening up. I dug up the popcorn that was still languishing there since the terrible attack by some vile creature. I also took out the epazote as it ended up looking more like a seed fest… it is important to find out everything you can before introducing something unfamiliar into your garden and finally I accidentally removed my stevia by standing on it, but all is not lost I’ve taken cuttings and it roots very easily in a jar of water! I also trimmed back the tomatillo because at the end of the day, while cool to grow it, I don’t really love it enough to have it take over the garden.

What beds don’t find themselves with crops in, because let’s face it,  the choice in winter while varied is nowhere near as vast as the summer options, will have cover crops in them to help replenish the organic matter taken from the garden during the long summer months.  Even this in itself requires careful consideration because while mustard is said to have beneficial properties to cleanse the soil, it is a brassica so can’t interfere with the crop rotation, because the last thing I want to do is introduce club root to my garden.

Corn

The corn isn’t far from being ready, and then an entire bed will come free, but the garlic will take it’s place in midwinter, so what ever goes in here needs to be quick – maybe a lupin cover crop to replace what the hungry corn is currently sucking out of the soil.

I would also like to grow more wheat as this year’s crop was just enough to mulch the strawberries and I’d really like to take this further.  When you have a large garden, mulch is an expensive proposition.  But I can’t just put it in any old bed, it needs to go into one that won’t be needed until about mid – late spring as the wheat seems to always take it to the very last moment before being ready for harvest, and in the meantime, I have plants in pots, desperate to go in.

Onion bed

With the shallots gone, all that is left in this one bursting with life garden is the leeks and some spring onions and a vast expanse of possibility…

Then if there is any odd bed that doesn’t fit in then I can smother it with some lovely well-rotted poop my farmer friend delivered to me by the tractor bucket load the other day and the earthworms can work it all in.

Celeriac

The celeriac is looking fabulous this year, and will be ready soon. There are only six of them so they will be gobbled up soon enough leaving a row sized gap in my leafy greens.

I think I’m going to need to sit down with a clear head and a large cup of tea and work this all out.  Deciding what to grow and where to put it; considering my crop rotation;  how long things take in the winter months – which is a lot slower than summer;  what needs to go in where in the spring, because some things can go in earlier and some things need to go in later when it is warmer; which cover crops and where to fit in my wheat already seems like a lot to figure out.  Just getting to this point where it is no longer floating about in my head, but safely on paper feels like a good start.

Come again soon – I’ll let you know what I decide to do.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Marrow Chips

Marrow chips

This is an amazing bowl of deliciousness. Marrow chips have to be the next big thing. Try it – you won’t regret it.

Is that even a thing?  Well it is now, especially in our house as I crunch my way through a bowl of deliciousness.  With the holidays behind us and routine returning to normal, much to our surprise the sun decided now was a good time to shine and the weather has been glorious.  This is what summer is all about.  Then what happens?  …  another holiday.  A long weekend to celebrate the anniversary of Auckland.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a holiday as much as the next person, and we only have one more long weekend before the long run to Easter, but when you work from home and your hobby and your job is your garden, then sometimes leaving it is hard to do.

Marrow

Take your marrow / over sized zucchini…

Sometimes it is hard for the garden too.  With the first decent spell of good weather, the plants thrived in the sunshine, but at the same time it competed with it for the moisture remaining in the soil.  It doesn’t take long to go from sodden to dry in the heat of midsummer.  The beans plumped up and needed harvesting in quantities not seen before this summer, the tomatoes ripened, the strawberries put on a second wind and the cucumbers continued to go nuts, producing more than enough.  The new potatoes and carrots I popped in the other day peaked through the soil to bask in the warmth of the day and the zucchinis quickly turned from being too small to being too big in the few short days we were away.

Marrow quartered

… and quarter it.

Most of the produce harvested were easy to treat, a quick blanch of the beans and into the freezer, tomato and cucumber salads and sandwiches for everyone and the gherkins got pickled.  The strawberries – well they were just a treat, quickly gobbled up by all.  But the marrows were a problem.  I could stuff them with my favourite meatloaf mix, but we’d need to eat them every day to clear the back log and with so many other yummier vegetables I’m not sure how this would have gone down.  Even dicing them and smothering them in cheese sauce seemed like an option, but not really a dish to celebrate this magnificent weather.   This is salad season.

Marrow deseeded

With a large spoon, scoop out all the seeds.

Then I thought … hmmm I wonder.  This is often a risky course of events as not everything goes according to plan.  But waste not want not and all that, I decided to try to make marrow chips.

Peeled marrow

Next, peel off the tough outer skin

A good size marrow was selected to start with – not too big in case we didn’t like them but not too small in case we loved them and quartered it lengthwise.  Then I scooped out the seeds and peeled it.  The next bit could have been tedious, but I got a cool new gadget for Christmas that slices and grates at the press of a button and makes the job quick and easy.  So, I attached the slicer and ran the marrow through to get what looked like good chip sized slices that were about 3mm thick.

Sliced marrow

Slice your marrow into thin slices – although I’d make them bigger than these.

Note:  I have to add, that next time, I will slice by hand and try to replicate the thin perfect slices the machine delivers, as I was limited by the size of the input chute which turned out to be a little too small.

marrow chip flavourings

Mix up the juice of half a lemon, sunflower oil, salt and sugar (clockwise in the picture) Cracked black pepper is missing from this line up.

The slices were then transferred to a large bowl and I added the juice of half a lemon, a pinch of sugar to take the sharp edge off the lemon, a dash of salt, because chips are supposed be a bit salty, some sunflower oil to make it all stick together and a bit of cracked pepper as an afterthought and mixed it all together so all the chips were well coated.  So essentially, I made a vinaigrette.  The options to get creative here are endless and next time I may try crushed garlic, white wine vinegar and finely chopped rosemary, or the oil you get in the sundried tomato jar, a splash of balsamic vinegar with finely chopped and crushed basil.   Yummo.

marrow chip flavourings

Add the flavourings and mix well.

I left them all to marinate as long as my patience would bear… so about 5 minutes.  Longer would have been better, but the flavour was still very good.  Then I carefully placed them on oiled dehydrator trays so they weren’t touching, set the dehydrate to the top setting and kept it on until the marrow was crispy. It probably took about 8 hours, but I’m not sure if this is the setting you are supposed to use as my instruction manual was lost years ago.  I do most things on full these days with no real adverse effects.   And for the marrow chips it seems it was the perfect setting for golden crunchy slithers of delight.   The drying did cause them to shrink quite significantly and so next time I’ll keep them thin, but make them bigger – the bigger the better.

dehydrating marrows

Lay them out on the dehydrator. Do your best to make sure they aren’t touching.

And in record time my family devoured an entire marrow in four minutes flat and were looking for more.  I have to say this is the best use of what is normally an undesirable by-product of a moments inattention in the garden.  The chickens often get marrow as a summer treat, but not anymore.   I may even deliberately let zucchinis go beyond that young small, sweet, tender stage, just so we can make chips.   I wonder what the yellow ones will be like……

Dehydrated marrow chips

Dehydrate until they are crispy and crunchy, then gobble up noisily. So very good.

I love it when a crazy plan turns out even better than expected.

Come again soon – the garden is bursting with inspiration.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Rain on a summers day

I’m not moaning, but this summer has really not been what you imagine summer to be. It has been cold and miserable and I have done nothing but complain about it for weeks. And then we had the storm. But the thing is, while I was busy being busy with the festive season and all of the holiday stuff, it changed… by stealth. Not being in my garden as much as I would have liked, I failed to notice that it had changed for the better. In the 26 days between the last most significant rainfall which was a doozy at 11mm and the storm, there were 21 days without so much as a drop of rain.

garden fountain

The sound of falling water on a hot summers day is enough to feel refreshed – but plants need more than sound.

The temperatures haven’t really been up there though and have averaged a high of only 23°C in the those 26 days, which is hardly warm enough to lure me for a summer swim in  the ocean. Along with the less than ideal temperature, the endless blue skies that are the quintessential picture of summer have also been mostly absent, hidden behind bleak and gloomy clouds. All of these things conspire to slow everything down for the season, which explains why I have had to wait longer for my tomatoes to ripen.
And then after days of nothing, it rained. Only for a bit, but we ended up with a whopping 13mm, before the sun came out briefly and began to dry things out again. However, it wasn’t enough to begin to repair the deep cracks appearing in the ground.

Rain gauge

13mm seems like a lot – but is it?

It is just as well my poor old garden has continued to be watered well throughout the growing season – either by the rain in the early months or by the hose more recently. Sometimes a good thirst quenching rain is the best kind of watering as it tends to cover the garden far better than the hose can. But even then, it shouldn’t be relied upon and you may still need to water after the rain. The leaves of the plants themselves can divert the water away from the root zone or it may be enough for the surface, but it won’t have gone down deep. The best way to tell how well the rain or the hose for that matter has restored the soil to a moist state is to dig a hole and just see for yourself.

Dry ground

Some pretty deep cracks have been forming

As you can see from my small hole after that day’s rain that it really wasn’t enough and would only serve to encourage roots near the surface, making them vulnerable in days to come when it dries out again. You really need to water deeply to encourage the plants to send down roots deep into the soil to seek out the moisture that will be found there long after the surface layer has dried out under the warmth of the summer sun. This makes it easier for the soil in the root zone to stay evenly moist.

Checking for rain penetration

All that rain really hasn’t penetrated very deep at all!

That is generally what you are after – the elusive prize of consistently moist soil, and not just in the top layer, so just sprinkling the hose about the place as you race past your plants isn’t going to cut it. Just because the soil looks wet doesn’t mean it is. Watering deeply every 2 – 3 days is much better than a squirt daily. Having said that – it helps to know your soil. A sandy soil will need more frequent deep watering as it is so free draining, all the water will drain away. I’m blessed. My soil used to be a swamp so it holds onto the water well and I can get away with a deep watering once a week.

Beware of rain shadows

Beware of rain shadows

Between watering however, the surface can dry out and crust over, which can actually act like a kind of mulch as it retains moisture in the soil below it. In order to get the water to penetrate this crust you should water in stages – firstly a gentle burst from the sprayer and allow the water to seep into this layer and open the pores in the soil to allow more water to enter. If you don’t do this, then the water will just roll away from where you need it to be. Then come back and water some more – generously this time, but if it starts to pool on the soil, take a break and then once it has soaked in come back and do it again. A nursery man I was once helped out, told me to water the plants in his greenhouses three times for the most efficient watering.

You can only do what you can only do, but watering first thing in the morning before the day heats up is the best time. This gives the plants a chance to have a good drink before the sun heats up and starts to evaporate any spare moisture lying around. If you can’t do mornings, then unwinding with a glass of your favourite chilled beverage in one hand and a hose in the other is a great way to end the day. Although, don’t leave it too late, you want the warmth of the late summer sun to dry off some of the water to avoid plants hanging around in humid conditions overnight as this can just invite disease and no one wants that.

rain droplets on broccoli leaves

There is much debate about water droplets magnifying the plants and burning the leaves in the midday sun… some say it’s true and others declare it a myth

If you have no choice, then during the day will have to do, but you will end up wasting more water than necessary as the hot midday sun can almost evaporate the water as it comes out the hose – well not quite, but if you are paying for your water or have a precious source in a tank collected from what little rain summer brings, then you want to water intelligently.

This also means – water where the plant actually wants it – at the soil near the roots. Most of the plants water uptake is through the roots, so watering the leaves, while rinsing off dust and debris and making the energy producing photosynthesis more efficient, it can also promote fungal diseases like powdery mildew and blight. It can also cause the water to run away from where it is actually needed.

Watering in the rain

Don’t laugh but watering in the rain may be necessary

Getting the watering right over the summer months will ensure plants stay healthy, so I shall head out into my garden in spite of the recent rain, check the soil and give them a proper drink if needed.

Come again soon – the kids are going back to school next week – maybe the sun will come out properly!

Sarah the Gardener : o)

For more information about getting the most out of watering your garden check out this great advice from the good people at Gardena: > 10 Golden Rules for Watering <

And if you want to learn a cool trick to find out how to stop your new hose from kinking and twisting and being difficult to use, check out my video that will solve all your problems:

It was a dark and stormy night

I have to say I’m really struggling with this summer.  Just when the busy is behind me and normal life stretches before me in a gentle ebb and flow of routine and I begin to enjoy the garden again – we get a storm!  Really?! Some high areas even got snow! This is not the summer I was looking for.  I feel so cheated.  We haven’t had that perfect summer for years.  We’re owed it.   And this frustration seems to bring out the worst in me because all I seem to do is moan about the weather.  I’m not normally a moaner.  I’m a happy go lucky, carefree garden lover.  I love growing food in my garden but this period of seasonal adversity is driving me nuts.

Wind damaged cornflowers

My cornflowers were the hardest hit and the worst of the damage. I should snip off the broken stems and plonk them in a vase. Nothing wasted.

While the storm for many was quite devastating and many gardens were torn to shreds overnight and months of work, just days from fruition were destroyed, I have been blessed.  There was very little damage.   My own mother was out there in her garden at 3 o’clock in the morning trying to rescue her tomatoes.   The bamboo poles supporting them had given way under the combination of very strong winds and very heavy, almost ripe tomatoes.  My tomatoes are still standing and are looking well.  I put this down to the steel bars I have been using this year.  Even the gherkins have remained steadfast, in spite of their self-imposed sagging.  The continual tweaking and improving the way I garden has ,in this instance, stood up to the test.

Wind tossed sunflowers

My poor sunflowers are all in disarray. But to be honest they were starting to be past their best and most of the petals had already shriveled and dropped off.

The weather now has a weak sun trying to push through and shine on a day that is overcast with clouds being whisked by at a great rate of knots as the storm reluctantly calms down.  The boffins are suggesting things will return to a proper summer by the end of the week.

Sweetcorn

I put the fact the sweetcorn is still standing down to my elaborate network of bamboo poles and string that I put in when I sowed the seed. The wind may have pushed the corn but it was held up by the string so could not fall far at all.

But in the meantime, the best I can do is wrap up warm – although not sock and beanie warm, and head out to the garden and set things right and then come inside and watch the video I made last week and feel the summer radiate out of the screen and hope the lovely days return very soon.  Check out my latest video where I show you how I hang my onions:

https://youtu.be/gwUmsMOzWaU

Come again soon – the sun will shine again and I promise to stop complaining about the weather for the rest of summer, even if it is horrible again.  (Well, I’ll  do my best)

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

OK Garden – what can you teach me?

We are now just passed the middle of the middle of summer.  Although strangely enough the weather in the first half of summer is always a bit rubbish and the second half is generally much more settled.  But we tend to get it all wrong – the holidays are in the first half and the kids go back to school in the second…  But anyway, finally all the holiday things are behind us – there are no more festive occasions to mark in grand style and we have gently fallen back into the ebb and flow of normal life again.

Summer days

The garden does look lovely on a sunny day

But not without one last camping session.  Don’t get me wrong, because I really did enjoy myself, but I’m not sure I’m a camping kind of girl.  Going to bed in a cold and slightly damp tent, with nothing more than a millimetre of fabric separating you from whatever is roaming about outside… in the dark!  Not to mention sleeping on an airbed that isn’t inflated correctly, then waking up to a searing heat so intense it drives you from the tent in the early hours that you’d never normally see.  But in order to get out of the tent you have to crawl on your hands and knees in a most undignified fashion as there is no standing room.   Yeah, not sure camping is my thing…

Hanging onions

The first batch of onions are hanging nicely in my shed.

But we’re back now, doing life in the ordinary way.  I’ve set about restoring order in the garden, not that there has been much to restore, this season the garden is in a good place and I’m grateful for that.  So I can rightly stand with my hands on my hips and look at the garden and try and find out what it is trying to tell me, things I should really do differently next season to improve the garden and all that grow in it.

destroyed popcorn

This is such a heart breaking sight to come home to. My poor popcorn.

Firstly – once again, some vile creature stripped my popcorn.  I didn’t even know it was ready.   Normally I’d leave it on the plant to dry and by the time it was ready it was late season and so I thought maybe it was a creature that was storing up food for the winter.  Then I started harvesting it earlier and letting it dry in the greenhouse, which seemed to work.  But this year I thought maybe if I planted it earlier, then it would be ready before the creature got hungry, but this clearly didn’t work. The harvest day fell while we were away and the marauding was able to carry on night after night until there were very few cobs left.  What I need to do differently is to calculate the harvest date to a time when all the camping and such is finished so I can keep an eye on things.  I also may need some kind of deterrent or physically cage my popcorn once the ears form….  Hmm this requires some thought…

Gherkin trellis

I think a solution to the sagging will improve airflow and make the gherkins easier to harvest.

This season I have replaced all my bamboo poles with steel rebar.  Not only did it turn out cheaper but the strength it offers is beyond compare.  Nothing has snapped under the weight of plants laden with full fruit or tossed about in the slightest of breeze.  I’m hooked on these.  However I think the trellis supporting the cucumbers and gherkins needs attention.  With a pole at each end of a nylon netting that starts the season stretched tight, has not stayed that way.  The gherkins instead of climbing the netting, have pulled it down towards them and gherkins are surprisingly strong and the poles have taken on a distinct lean.  So next season I’m going to need something across the top that will keep the poles upright and at the correct distance apart to resist the lean and also will be able to hold the top edge of the netting to stop the sag.  It is all very easy to suggest this, but I’m not sure how to connect whatever it will be, securely to the top of the rebar.  I’m going to need to ponder this.

Melons in pots

I can’t believe I’m showing you this disgraceful sight. I really should take better care of my melons.

In order to get a bigger onion crop and a bigger melon crop – I got greedy.  I did the same for my garlic and peppers and in theory it should have worked.  The onions and garlic are generally due out on the longest day which is usually a miserable un-summer-like day just before Christmas.  So I figured if I could only just hold back the peppers and melons in containers until the onion and garlic come out and then pop them in their place to carry on growing all season.  It also gives a use to this empty bed that I normally don’t really know what to do with.    Now I’ll freely admit some of this problem is mine as I didn’t plant the waiting plants into big enough containers so they could continue to grow unhindered.  I ran out of time and didn’t have enough big enough pots.  I’ll need to find some.  But one thing happened that I didn’t expect, but probably should have – the weather has been horrible for summer and everyone is saying things are slower than normal, even my onion growing farmer friend across the road.  Added to that the ‘fun’ of camping and my onions have only just come out of the bed I need for the melons, almost a month longer than I’d planned for.

Pepper plants

While still quite productive, my peppers aren’t as big as they have been in previous years.

So the melons are languishing in pots too small in my absence in increasingly hotter weather.   I don’t hold out great hopes.  The garlic came out earlier than expected due to the rust, but the peppers aren’t as lush as they normally are.   So I think in order to learn from this for next season – is I need to be diligent with my plants in pots care.  I need to ensure they are in the right sized pots and are lavished with love and attention until the time is right to move them.  I still think this a sound idea that just needs tweaking.

flowers

It isn’t all bad – the flowers are fabulous.

These are just the obvious problems that stare at me and taunt me each time I go into the garden, but if I look closer I’ll see I’ve too many zucchini – what was I thinking? and the butternuts could probably do with more space, I should give up on the catch-up sweetcorn and just make sure the seed is fresh to start with, besides the pukekos just keep pulling them out anyway!  I need to go for a wander in the garden with my notebook and take notes – and then make plans and put them in place next season.

Come again soon – most of the garden is well and thriving, but growing as a gardener is just as important as having the plants growing.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Goal setting for the garden

Ten days into the new year and I was hoping to be able to give you my list of New Year’s Resolutions that would revolutionise the way I garden making it efficient, motivating and inspiring and have that satisfying “Duh… while didn’t I always do it like that?”.  But I’ve got nothing.   The thing that springs to my mind most frequently when I think about this is to keep the beds weed free all year – in other words keep on top of the sector systems even in the dead of winter.

Tomatoes

We got tomatoes … finally

This should make things easy in spring because there is normally a dry patch in early spring where the beds can be given a tickle to get them ready for the new season.  But if you miss this because the beds are horrendously weedy or life keeps you from the garden, then it tends to rain and rain and more rain and you go from being almost ready for spring to running way behind and the poor wee seedlings sit in pots way to long waiting for wet, soggy beds to dry out and be given the all clear to prep for the season.

Sunflowers

The weather may be gloomy, but my sunflowers bring me sunshine

I could also legitimately try to keep my citrus plants alive, because let’s face it – although I called it a success last year, I think leaving it until 10 days before the year ends is probably cheating a little.  They seem to be doing well so far in their pots and the lime has new growth and I’ve even remembered to feed them with citrus food.  I’ll have a lemon for a refreshing G&T before I know it.

New growth on lime plants

Lime coloured new growth on my lime plant. I wonder if that is intentional or a really cool coincidence.

Aside from that, I’ve got no idea.  Working in the garden normally fills me with inspiration, but with a holiday season plonked in the middle of my growing season, what little time I have had for gardening has been spent being reactive rather than proactive.  It has been head down, bum up and not a lot of room for the luxury of pondering and wondering at the amazing garden that is growing before me.

Onions ready for harvest

Onions ready for harvest… now to find the time to harvest them… summer holidays can be so inconvenient. (Don’t get me wrong I do love them – its just… well… my onions need me.)

My head is full of the immediate needs – the onions in the greenhouse have dried out nicely and now need hanging up.  The onions in the garden need lifting and popping into the greenhouse where the others currently are.  Then the desperate melons need putting in their place in the garden.  I don’t hold out much hopes for a melon harvest this year as the onions are a lot slower due to a gloomy, soggy cold season.  Although the delay that slowed the onions may work in the favour of the poor melons – so long as the weather does improve eventually.

Melon seedlings

These melon seedlings are dying to be planted before they die from not being planted

Then there are potatoes that need to come up.  I managed to get my hands on some more to pop in to get a last sneaky crop before the end of the season.  I have some Osprey and Rudolf ready to go.  I’ve never seen these varieties before so are keen to try them.  I was going to make some amazing play on burying reindeers on Christmas day.  Out with the Jersey Bennes and in with old Rudolf.  But who was I kidding (myself mostly) if I thought I’d be out there on Christmas day or Boxing day for that matter planting potatoes!  So the whole reindeer thing has kind of lost its humorous point and returned being just ordinary potatoes.

Potato plants in the late stages of life

Potato plants in the late stages of life look so messy. Wouldn’t it be lovely (and aesthetically pleasing) if they stayed lush right until the very end…

There is always something that needs urgent attention in the garden, but I do prefer the more sedate pace of a well organised garden, and so I’ll do my best to create this in the garden this year.     The other thing is, it just seems odd to be creating goals and plans while halfway through something.  It is like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.   Maybe what I should be doing is taking great notes and recording details and in the dead of winter then come up with my resolutions for the new season, learning from the mistakes of this season – because lets face it, there will be.

Let me know what plans and goals you have so I can either shamelessly borrow them to improve my garden or wish you well with your endeavours and cheer you on along the way.

Come again soon – the weather may not say summer with its gloomy overcast days, but the tomatoes are here so it must be summer.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Hot buttered toast with a good blob of Black Currant Jam

A lot of things are demanding my attention in the garden at the moment as the festive season neglect is slowly coming to an end.   I’m torn between doing a systematic overhaul one bed at a time so the garden is back to where it should be in an orderly fashion, or running about tending to the most urgent things first.  The problem with this option is we are now in the height of the season and so everything is becoming urgent.  As soon as you deal with one thing, there are another three demanding attention – and this is the way of a garden in full swing.

black currant harvest

Not a bad haul

I decided to take a mixed approach and spent the first half of my allotted time in the garden doing a full tidy up of the beds in sector one.  It kind of upsets my sense of order as this is scheduled for Mondays, but not enough to make me start on the Wednesday sector first.  As much as it doesn’t really matter but I do like the rhyme of routine and it would seem I’m becoming set in my ways before my time.

The herb garden is now tidy and befitting of its new sign

The herb garden is now tidy and befitting of its new sign

So the herb bed was weeded and the rogue horseradish seedlings harshly ripped out – remind me to tell you about that one day – it is an interesting tale of caution that you should learn from me and not from your own experience.  I trimmed the oregano which was trying to invade the chives and deadheaded the chives so they don’t take over the entire bed with their little black seeds.  I nipped the tops out of the basil in an attempt to stop them going to seed. I sowed more dill and coriander so we’d have a constant supply and cleared away the weeds around the edge.  It was so satisfying to stand back and see at least one bed was in order.

Kitten in the peas

Now she decides to play in the peas. It would have been much better if she’d been there earlier to chase the birds away and save the pods from being stripped!

Then I moved on to the peas.  They were past it now and were all brown and soggy.  The birds have been a real pain here this year and actually stripped most of the pods of their peas before I could get to them.  I’ve decided to go back to my favourite tall variety now that I have discovered the rebar posts in the garden.  They are not only stronger than bamboo but actually cheaper too!  And I haven’t really gotten on well with the dwarf peas – they just don’t taste the same and I miss my old favs.  Now with all the peas gone until the autumn their bed has had other plants sneak in and I have some mountain corn and broccoli holding the space.   I just need to decide what to put into the recently cleared bit.

The beans, cucumbers, zucchini, spuds and red currants were also given a bit of a weed.  They didn’t need too much aside from tendrils being tucked in here and there.  The Jersey Benne spuds need digging up – as do the Maris Anchor which succumbed to blight early on.  I have some new sneaky ones to pop in their place so we can hopefully get another crop before the end of the season.

Tassels of black currants

Tassels of black currants

Looking up from the red currants I glanced across to the black currants.  The branches were laden and each and every fat black berry was ready – in optimum condition.  That made it easy to decide what to do with the rest of my allotted time in the garden.  Harvesting blackcurrants.  To be honest they aren’t the easiest thing to harvest and the bushes aren’t that tall so you sort of have to contort yourself into a half sitting half standing position, burying yourself in the bush, but kind of under it to ensure you get them all.

They release easy enough from the stalks if you want to pluck off each one individually but when the bush is heaving with fruit that method would take forever.  They sort of hang off with many berries on one stem, but there is mostly more than one stem from the same point so you have a bobbly tassel affect making it tricky to strip the stem without crushing the fruit.  However, by keeping the end goal in mind – hot buttered toast with a great blob of blackcurrant jam on top is more than enough motivation to ensure every last one is salvaged from the plant.

Wash well

Wash well

Once in the kitchen I found I had harvested 1.6 kg.  Not a bad effort, but they needed cleaning up.  There may have been a bit of dirt and grass in my bowl from when I knocked it over earlier in the harvesting process.  So I filled the sink with cold water and set about the laborious process of removing stalks, leaves, green berries and debris.  My fingers were soggy and wrinkled at the end of it all but I kept that hot buttered toast vision in my head at all times.

I used a kilo of the berries to make cordial to add a little something special to my long cold glasses of water while working in the garden under the hot sun.  If you have to stay hydrated then why not make it fancy.

clean black currants

And now to process them

I popped them in the pot and added 300ml of water and gently heated them until all the berries burst.  I found encouraging this with a potato masher was a great help.  Great care needed to be taken as they have a tendency to stick and could burn on the bottom.    Next I strained it through a jelly bag and measured the liquid – I got about 600 mls out and according to my calculations added about 375g give or take of sugar, and heated gently to dissolve the sugar.  Lastly I added a tablespoon or so of lemon juice.  The whole thing seemed a bit thick to me so I added some boiled water slowly until it reached a more syrup consistency and added a touch more sugar to compensate for the change in volume.  Then I poured it into sterile bottles, ready for my next garden session under the sun.

Black currant syrup

Black currant syrup – ready for the bottle.

I then took the last 600 grams and popped them in the pot and covered them with water, added the pulp from the jelly bag left over from the cordial – waste not want not and encouraged them all to give up their juice with the potato masher.  Then I weighed the berries and added the same amount of sugar and the juice of half a lemon and boiled until it reached the setting point using the blob of jam on a cold plate, skin wrinkle test method and popped them into sterile jars.   I don’t recommend doing this after dinner – it makes for a very long night.  But at the same time it is so rewarding – just think about that hot buttered toast…

Black currant jam on hot buttered toast

Well worth the effort… so very good

Come again soon – normal garden routine should return soon as the year loses some of its newness and life carries on as usual.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

The signs are changing

With the New Year upon us, I have had little time to care for the garden as well as I’d like.  Technically we are still on holiday so days spent leisurely tending the garden for all my hearts delight is replaced with a quick dash into it to do what needs doing urgently and harvesting all that is ready.  The time is spent enjoying time with the family before the routine of normal resumes its ebb and flow.

Welcome to my garden

Welcome to my garden – it’s right this way

So needless to say, my sector system is in disarray.  And to make things worse, there was the typical holiday weather of the season – mostly gloomy, with periods of heavy rain and strong wind and just enough sunshine to feel like we haven’t been short changed over the summer holiday break.  I have welcomed the rain as things were starting to dry out and it has provided comfort that the garden will be ok with only sporadic care.  Besides rain restores the moisture to the soil in a way that watering can’t.  The down side of all of this wet and warm weather is the weeds have enjoyed it almost more than my plants and have taken off at a great rate of knots.  I need to resume the sector system sooner rather than later so I regain control and am able to be proactive towards the garden, rather than reactive.  It is never a good thing to bounce wildly around the garden dealing to problems and urgent issues – it sucks the pleasure right out of it.

New signage was well overdue

New signage was well overdue

But while we are still in holiday mode, it seems like the right thing to indulge in projects not problems.  So I turned a blind eye to the weeds and set about doing something I’d been meaning to do for quite some time but hadn’t got around to it.  I had all the materials there in the shed waiting and all it needed was a moment in time where I could just focus on one thing and enjoy the project.  While it makes the garden look pretty, it is also quite functional.  I made new signs for all the beds.

Not just pretty, but functional

Not just pretty, but functional – the three strawberry signs are marked with a number in the top corner so I can keep track of how old the strawberries are in each bed – so at the end of the season all I need to do is move the signs.

I’d thought about it for a while as the signs I already had were several years old, the paint was peeling and there weren’t enough for each bed as … well… the garden has this habit of growing, in more ways than horticulturally.  I’m seriously considering a fence to contain myself.  The garden is a good size and just manageable for me.   I have no self-control when it comes to the garden and I seriously need confining lest I spread further across the land.

Sign making

Looks good, but in hindsight – I’d cut first and then decorate

The signs make the garden look cool, but they are also my crop rotation plan.  Once I sat down and worked it all out – carrots are good after potatoes because they break up the soil, brassicas need to keep moving every year to avoid club root building up in the soil.  Peas and beans can contribute nitrogen to the soil if you leave the roots to rot in the ground, so popping them before a hungry plant is a good idea and onions and garlic are said to have properties that clean up the soil after disease prone plants so popping them in to follow the more ‘precious’ plants is a good idea.  There were loads of other reasons for putting things where they are and it was more complicated than working out the seating plan at a dysfunctional family wedding.  We couldn’t have Step-Aunty Joan anywhere near Cousin Brian three times removed.  The whole thing gave me a headache and wasn’t something I’d care to repeat every season.  So now all I have to do is pick up my signs and move them clock wise and then plant accordingly.  Nothing could be easier.

sign making

That’s a lot of signs there…

To make the signs was interesting.  I’m not all that artistic and have difficulty waiting for paint to dry and wielding a paint brush results in blobby, smudged lines and a touch of disappointment as I fail to realise the vision in my head.  So this time I decided to forgo the paint brushes for paint pens.  It couldn’t have been simpler – I know how to write and my drawing is ok-ish and would suit the needs of the signs.

Pre-drilling the stakes

It is great to get the whole family involved in gardening projects. The Joeyosaurus was so pleased with his sign

Then I pulled the planks of wood from my shed that I had picked up with good intentions months ago from the hardware store and once again bemused the staff with the explanation of my plans for the timber that would ordinarily end up as part of some much more noble a project.  I had 2 metre lengths of smooth dressed 140mm x 20mm planks.  I didn’t fancy spending hours sanding wood smooth to make it easy to paint on so this was perfect.

Stakes screwed securely to the backs of all the signs

Stakes screwed securely to the backs of all the signs

Away from the rain day, I laid the timber on the outdoor table and whiled away a pleasant afternoon ‘painting’ the names of all the beds onto the planks at 25cm intervals.   I was so pleased with myself – I did it all freehand without much pre-planning and didn’t need a do over due to smudging or misspelling.   Once all the words were touch dry, I went back over the signs and added decorative elements and it looked pretty cool.

All my new signs

And there you have it – all my new signs

Then came time to assemble it all.  I would like to say at this point if you value your sanity or wellbeing of your marriage if you get your other half involved, then I would in hindsight suggest you do this bit first and cut up your wood into 25cm lengths and then decorate.  Let’s just say Hubby the Un-Gardener and I came to creative differences over the accuracy of the skill saw that refused to follow the line I’d provided and sailed way too close to my cute painted decorations near the boundaries of the sign.  After much animated discussion, we resorted to a hand saw and I am so grateful for Hubby the Un-Gardener’s man strength because I’d still be out there hacking away at the wood with blisters and stiff muscles forming on blisters and stiff muscles that had already found their way upon my poor old body.

Seriously - how cute does this look?

Seriously – how cute does this look?

Next the sign stakes were made from the slats of wood that ordinarily gets used for making trellis.  The hardware store guys were completely sceptical of this use for the wood, but I reassured them with a cheery “She’ll be right.”  The lengths of wood were easily cut into 40 cm lengths and pre-drilled to prevent splitting and screwed to the backs of the signs.  This bit was easy enough and even The Joeyosaurus had a go with the power tools.  He really wanted to be involved in making the sign for his ‘pet garden.’   After making 37 signs I was pleased that they were all up the right way and actually didn’t look too bad and that family relations were once again harmonious.

It was lovely to take a break from the day to day doing and do some larger big picture projects for the garden that improve functionality and makes it look good too.

Come again soon – most folk will be back at work soon and the weather will improve as a result and it will feel more like summer in the garden again.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

Merry Christmas

Gosh, how have we found ourselves here on the Eve of Christmas.  This season has whizzed by in the whirl of excitement, anticipation, joy, busyness, a touch of disappointment – my beans haven’t come up, wind, rain and sunshine.  Time has been spent in the garden, in the kitchen and pounding the streets looking for perfect gifts.  It is a hectic time of year in ordinary circumstances, however, when you throw a large productive garden into the mix, well it just adds a certain kind of drama.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from a sunny garden in New Zealand

So, on my list of things to do today is making a pav, making salads for the main meal, whipping up festive cocktails, greeting guests and pickling gherkins and if all goes well I’d love to be able to weed the corn.

Having said that, the garden is in a good place, and I can lay it down for a while over the festive season – just dashing out to it from time to time to grab something for a fancy salad or dish that will be the star of the table, or just something to snack on when the richness of the holiday food gets too much.

Gherkins

The first jar of gherkins this season – and it certainly won’t be the last!

I did worry I’d never get to this point as the horrible spring weather with its ever-present rain set me back weeks.  But all but a few small plants have found their way into the garden and are growing in a way that has me bursting with pride.  You can check it out here:

So, all that is left to do is sit back and enjoy Christmas that I have spent so long preparing for.

Merry Christmas and God Bless you all.

Come again soon – I’m sure there will be more gherkins than I know what to do with in 2017.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

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