I have to say it is taking all my inner strength not to load post after post complaining about the weather. So, I have been looking for the bright side. Finding up beat and exciting things to share. Doing things to bring sunshine into my world like making lemon honey, the joy of sowing seeds and taking a disproportionate number of photos on the rare sunny day. But it is exhausting trying to keep a brave face on.
I went away for the weekend and tried to forget about the garden for a while and all it did was rain incessantly. I was a little worried about going away leaving my tender seedlings – some still ungerminated under the watchful care of Hubby the Un-Gardener. His track record isn’t so great. Last year he left the greenhouse shut up on a sunny day and forgot to water and fried a multitude of things.
This year he was more than diligent – he took notes when I was showing him what to do, he set alarms and even sent me photographic evidence of him doing what needed to be done. It was with great relief that I came home to see tiny tomato seedlings with outstretched leaves. This is my solace knowing someday soon these small plants will be basking in the heat of a summer sun – looking to me to quench their thirst. This day will come.
However, there can be times where the consistent wet conditions can be a benefit. At this time of year I let the chickens free range about the place for a bit of a change in their lives and they love it – although I do wonder why their first instinct is to go to the front door an poop all over the deck? We have three wonderful acres for them to roam and explore, but they would rather be up by the house – making a mess.
Well – late last week I banished them back to their own place – a large compound that for some would be considered free ranging in its own right. Because I’d had enough. Someone had been scratching about in my garden and pulling out my onions! Some had been damaged irreparably.
This is where my not wanting to waste anything actually came in handy. Some would say I was hoarding seedlings, but I’d convinced myself that the left-over onions seedlings, once fat enough could be used in some kind of cooking session – whatever it would be – it would be delish. So fortunately, I was able to grab the fattest seedlings still languishing in the seed tray (from June!) and pop them in the gaps. I muttered terrible things about the chickens lack of respect for my garden and my onions.
It was with a sense of peace over my onions that I went away for the weekend, although I was still a tad worried about the seedlings in the greenhouse. But upon coming home and sloshing about the garden to check on things, I found complete carnage in my onion bed again! And evidential poop to point the finger at the true villains of this situation. The Pukeko – the quirky but deadly onion destroying swamp hens! Fortunately for most of the seedlings a weekend lying on the surface of the bed in the pouring rain was enough to keep them with enough vitality to allow for hope that they will survive and once again I popped them back in to the wet earth. I did need to raid my seedling stash for several more replacements for the ones that had not only been unearthed but completely mangled as well.
I need a fence.
And in spite of their innocence the chickens are still behind bars.
Come again soon – the sun is trying to shine weakly through large dark clouds, maybe this is a sign for better days.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
We had another storm blow through overnight. This year is really becoming a huge lesson in patience. As much as I want to get on and dig the garden I continue to wait. I have done pretty much all I can do in the greenhouse for now – seeds have been sown and seedlings transplanted, so all I can do there is more waiting! I’m sure it will dry out soon enough, but in the meantime I have make a short video by stringing together a year of sweeping pans across my garden. You can see all sorts of cool things like the corn burst into life, grow tall and then disappear for the season, the transition of the onion from the garden to the greenhouse for drying and loads of other little things. I do hope you enjoy it.
Come again soon – spring weather can be tumultuous.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
You have to admit a vast expanse of well-maintained lawn in middle of summer with the fresh cut aroma invoking some kind of childhood memory where you would roll down hills, do handstands and lie on your back looking for shapes in the clouds, is a pretty cool thing.
Our lawn journey is more of a boom and bust thing. We don’t have immaculate single species grass to adorn the land around our house. It is reclaimed pasture and weeds have been known to outnumber the grass in the wrong seasonal conditions. But we love how it looks when it has been freshly cut. All of a sudden, the whole yard looks fresh and like someone actually cares about the place. We used to take the time to cut it ourselves, but our lives got increasingly busier and so we hired professions, who would whizz in and whizz around – cut the grass and also a few corners and charge us a small fortune for their mediocre efforts. So, we returned to doing it ourselves with the help of the lad up the road and more recently our lad who is happy for an opportunity to line his teenage pockets.
Unfortunately grass grows, and so even with weekly or fortnightly cutting, the grass would quickly go from looking gorgeous to looking shaggy, especially in the spring. In the spring, the grass grows in leaps and bounds – while you’re cutting it! We have a fair bit of grass that needs cutting and it is exhausting. Mowing in and around my veggie garden can take well over an hour. I measured it once – it took 6730 steps. The app on my photo chirps loudly to say a workout is being detected – but alas no – it’s just me mowing the lawn. And then I go and have a lie down.
Over this last year I have been working with the lovely people at Gardena and they have been so generous towards me and as a result of our working relationship they are aware of the things that exhaust me and have provided me with a number of items to make my gardening experience easier. So, when they offered us a robotic lawn mower it was such a blessing. We never realised just how much impact having Neville would have on our lives.
Not only was it one less chore – although the young lad still has to mow around the back of the house, and I have to still mow in the interior of my garden – but I enjoy that and it is done in a jiffy – but the incredible sense of well being when the back yard looks nice all of the time. The weeds in the lawn don’t like to have their heads constantly chopped and so their populations are dwindling. The sweet smell of freshly cut grass is there every day as he goes about his job taking just a tiny amount off the tips of the grass each time he passes over.
But also, I have to say having a robotic lawn mower is also a peaceful thing to have in the garden. He bobs about at a gentle pace and is quite mesmerising. I will sit down with a cuppa tea and just watch him and lose myself. I come away feeling rested and relaxed.
Now that we have experienced the full benefits of our little blue buddy Neville, we can say with confidence – we will never be without robotic mower ever again. A robotic lawmower is very easy to install and you can share in our excitement as we went about setting our wonderful Neville.
Come again soon – winter is behind us now and we are well on our way to a new and exciting growing season.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
So the ground is still soggy and unprepared – I’m not in the least concerned today because I have the spring fever. Now it is here – you just gotta go with it. I’ll worry about the beds later, because today was all about the seeds.
After waiting for what seems like an eternity to get started (aside from a wee taster with the peppers) – the flag has been waved and we’ve been given the nod – it is seed sowing time. There are seven weeks until the traditionally acknowledged safe from frost date so now is as good a time as any to plunge my hands into seed sowing mix.
Of course I knew exactly where to start – with the tomatoes. These are the super stars in the garden. They take up a large space, grow tall but most importantly the tomatoes themselves are a delight and a pleasure and so very good to eat. I have 20 spots in my garden – filled with 19 varieties (San Marzano get two because they are great for cooking). I was quite restrained and only sowed 4 seeds of each and I’m hoping I don’t need to do a re-sow. The seeds were fresh, the seed raising mix was new and the greenhouse is toasty warm so I’m pretty sure it will be ok.
Then I moved on to the brassicas, so many brassicas – broccoli, romanesco, kale, kohlrabi, cabbage and cauliflower. I filled seed trays with leafy greens, herbs, marigolds, okra, leeks and much more. It was a frenzy of seed sowing. I was binging on seeds like a hungry person at an all you can eat restaurant and it felt good. Having said that – I haven’t sown them all. I’ve left my cucumbers, pumpkins, beans and corn for another day because they grow quickly and really don’t like the cold.
The makings of my garden are underway and in a few short months some of those tiny seeds will be towering giants in my garden and others will be gone – by way of my tummy and immensely enjoyed. I can’t think of a better way to indulge in the first day of spring.
Come again soon – this excitement is just getting started.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Here I am on the doorstep of yet another season and I wonder, where does the time go? Sometimes I think it would be nice to have hobby that wasn’t so time stamped, as the passing of the seasons is so entwined with the happenings in the garden.
For a non-gardener, the crossing of August into September is just another ordinary day – no different from the day before or the day after. It is still cold and more than likely will burst into rain. For a gardener, this is the most important dawn in the entire year – almost more important than birthdays and Christmas combined. It is the start of the growing season and after a long impatient wait, seeds can be sown.
Then the days and weeks are marked all season. 14 days for seedlings to appear, 6 weeks until the last frost date, 100 days from September 16 until Christmas because that’s how long Jersey Benne Potatoes take. Saying goodbye to the last asparagus at Christmas so the crowns can restore themselves. Tomato plants being constantly watched – for the first tomato, the first red tomato, the first signs of blight. The peach harvest comes and goes in the blink of an eye, the late summer days are counted by the ever-increasing number of zucchini sitting on the bench waiting to be eaten.
Eventually, there is the inevitable decline across the garden as summer begins to turn into autumn and the days shorten and introduce a chill and then we are back to counting the days until the spring is with us again.
A garden can bring you in tune with nature, slow you down to a rhythm that has no room for impatience that urges things to happen before their time, but at the same time the season looks over its shoulder asking you ‘are you keeping up because time is ticking on and it will all be over soon.’
Maybe I’m just getting old and noticing the march of time more these days (but I’m not really old at all). But on the up side the new season gives us the opportunity for hope – hope that things will be better than last year. The air is filled with anticipation and expectation. It gives us a reason to rouse from our winter inertia and breathe deeply the new season air. A wonderful way to feel alive and full of vigour.
So while we are standing at the edge of our exciting tomorrow, I am wanting to shout, “not yet – I’m not ready!” My soil is still wet and needs attention and I’m not ready for another season in my life to pass me by. The only answer to this is of course to make the most of every single day. Stop and smell the sweet-smelling flowers, notice the way the pea tendrils cling to the trellis, savour the taste of freshly harvested sweetcorn. Time passes regardless of how we use it, and tending a garden is a great way to make the most of it and appreciate it all the more.
Come again soon – tomorrow is spring and there is so much to be done.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
A friend of mine recently shared his lemon harvest with me, to which I was extremely grateful. Citrus has been my Achilles heel. I love to use the fragrant fruit in my kitchen in a multitude of ways, but over the last decade of being here a flourishing citrus grove has been elusive. It turns out they don’t like wet feet and so many poor unfortunately trees have drowned because of me and my determined attempts to have what I want.
I now have a lime and a lemon safely high and dry in large containers. However, they are still too young to bear fruit, but it won’t be too long before I have my own abundance. Until then my friend has been very generous and it would seem I have done him a favour to relieve him of the burden of too many lemons.
Now one thing we have is too many eggs. The rescue chickens are now fully feathered and full of personality. However, they are still laying like the little factory chickens they were and the bowl on the bench we keep them in often overflows, in spite of giving them away to anyone who dares to set foot on our doorstep.
The coming together of these two fabulous ingredients means only one thing – it is time to make the magnificent Lemon Honey. When we have our own lemons coming out of our ears I’m sure this will be a regular feature across a hot buttered slice of toast. But until then it is a rare delicacy to be savoured.
It isn’t difficult at all to make for this fabulous flavour reward. You start by melting 250g of butter in a bowl sitting on top of a pot of boiling water. Make sure it is a large pot with plenty of water so it doesn’t boil away to nothing in the thickening process.
Once the butter has melted, add 4 cups of sugar and the juice of 8 lemons. The recipe I used for also said the zest of all those lemons, but while I like the flavour they introduce – I don’t really like the bitter little bits, so I only put in a token amount. It’s my lemon honey for my hot buttered toast so I can do what I like!
While the sugar is dissolving, beat 8 eggs in another bowl, then add a bit of the lemony mixture to the eggs and mix well, then add the bowl of eggs to the lemony mixture in the pot. I assume this is to stop the eggs scrambling. The next stage is a bit tedious because it takes ages (less than an hour but still in this fast-paced world that is a long time). The mixture needs to be stirred constantly until it thickens. You can use the jam setting technique of popping a blob on a cold plate to check to see if it is ready as it thickens further when cooled. Then once it is thick enough – put it into sterile jars, cool and store in the fridge. This recipe gave us just over 5 jars of delicious goodness, that won’t last long around here.
While it did use a fair few lemons, I still have plenty left, so I’m thinking of making some Lemoncello. I’ve made that before and you can check it out >HERE<, maybe some lemon cordial and the rest will be used in a soothing hot lemon drink to help shake a nasty head cold I seem to have picked up.
Lemons are a fabulous fruit to have on hand.
Come again soon – the rain has stopped for now and the sun is shining, such a strange occurrence.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Winter is a long drawn out season with limited opportunity to do some real gardening. However, I don’t like just sit there and do nothing during these months. I like to do things that add value to my garden space and enhance my gardening season. Like the winter we built a compost system and wrapped a picket fence around it so it looked like a feature and not an eyesore. It is compost after all. You can check out that hair brained project >HERE<, >HERE< and >HERE<. After that mammoth effort, last year’s project was much simpler and I made some cloches to keep my seedlings in the garden safe and warm. You can check that out >HERE<.
So this year, when an idea came to me, I thought about it for a very long time before acting upon it, as – even while it was in my head, struck me as rather complex. I pondered it for many weeks, before sitting down to figure it all out. I tried to design it on pencil and paper, but I couldn’t make the 3D part work, I didn’t have the skills. So I did what a writer does best and opened a word document on my computer and using the INSERT SHAPE function I laid out my imaginary bits of wood. I created images from all angles and used different colours for the bits of wood with different functions.
Once it came together and all made sense, I made a paper model with lots of sticky tape so I could visualise if the 2D designs would work in 3D as I wasn’t quite sure how it would all stick together in the final stages. Once I was happy with this, I took the designs and worked out how much wood I needed and went to the lumber yard to place my order. They know me well there and so weren’t at all surprized when I had to call back and order a little bit more because I’d got a decimal point in the wrong place. Possibly better to have had not enough than too much. Imagine needing 25 metres and receiving 250 metres!
So with that hiccup easily fixed I got onto the building and construction stage and to be honest I don’t have great skill and ability here either, but I did my best and Hubby the Un-Gardener did his best. Bless him. And eventually after many blisters and a bandaid (not for me) the project was completed and looks awesome. I really can’t wait to use it this spring.
Builders and those with technical abilities may not want to watch, but I recorded my creative process to show you what I built for my garden this winter. I may not have great skill, but I have great vision. It’s probably not so much an instructional video – more of a comedy of errors, so grab some popcorn and enjoy!
Come again soon – spring is almost a week away, then we’ll be back to the proper gardening!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Spoiler – Alert:
I suppose it makes a change from rain, and there is something mysterious about the fog. But I half expect Scooby Doo and Shaggy to stumble out of it exclaiming “Zoikes”. All going well it will clear to a nice blue sky day, which would be lovely as this week I have mostly been behind the computer catching up on all the things that need catching up on before the onslaught of the season kicks in.
But it isn’t like the garden is completely dormant in a winter slumber. In the remaining days of the season spring is absolutely making itself a home. And I’ve been doing things too:
Before long this gloomy season will be behind us and I’ll be basking in warmth eating tomatoes freshly plucked from healthy plants. But for now the tomatoes are still in their seed packets and I’m wrapped up warm, trying to get as much preparation done as I can.
Come again soon – I’ve been building things again…
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I don’t know if you remember a couple of summers ago I hosted an American carrot in my garden. He wasn’t just any old carrot – Gardenerd was a rather large plush carrot in the midst of a world tour. He was such a pleasure to have to visit and he helped me sow some carrot seeds in my garden and then we took him out on our boat for a tour of the Auckland Harbour. You can read more about the fun times we had with our little orange friend >HERE<
But there is more to Gardenerd than a cool travelling carrot. Gardenerd is also website of the lovely Christy Wilhelmi. Christy is a little like me, super passionate about growing food and encouraging others to grow their own. She even runs gardening classes and food garden design services in Los Angeles where she lives and back in 2013 she released a great book called Gardening for Geeks which looks at the science behind the growing your food. She has been sharing the gardening love for over a decade.
Christy got in touch with me just before we headed off on our holiday to let me know she had an exciting new project and asked if I was interested in checking it out. Ten years ago, on the Gardenerd.com site Christy published a tip of a week each week for one week only. Over time this resulted in hundreds of great and trustworthy gardening tips so the logical thing to do was to pop them all together in an e-book where all of the links made at the time could still be accessed. Today’s technology has made it possible for this fantastic resource to come together as an interactive book: 400+ Tips for Organic Gardening Success.
I just had to check it out and downloaded it for my holiday reading. It was my gardening fix at sea. Each morning when I woke up I reached for my phone where I had it saved and eagerly swiped through the pages. Aside from taking photos, my phone wasn’t good for much else as there was extremely limited WiFi where we were. This did mean I wasn’t able to click on the links, but I took plenty of notes and jotted down the links I just had to check out once I got home. This was a book a keen gardener can lose themselves in and with the ability to wander beyond the book, makes it so much more.
While the book is based in the Northern Hemisphere and has a lot of locational tips specific to America, these are still interesting to read for me down under, and often I sigh a huge sigh of relief that I don’t have to worry about some of those pests they have up there! But aside from the few points of difference – the rest is practical and useful and either refreshed my memory or taught me something new. For the most part, it doesn’t matter where you are – if you plant a tomato seed then you should get some tomatoes to eat. As gardeners, we all speak the same language.
With the new season coming up and you are looking for advice on how to get the most out of your garden or maybe feel a tad rusty after the long, wet winter months – Christy’s e-book 400+ Tips for Organic Gardening Success will put you on the right track to a bountiful harvest. Whether you dip in and out to find the tips you need or devour it whole in one sitting you will really get a lot out of it. I certainly did. You can get a copy from >Amazon< for a very affordable price.
I would like to wish Christy all the best with this project, you can see the care and passion behind every hint and tip and can tell she only wants the best for the gardeners who read her words.
Come again soon – Spring is so close now I can see, smell and hear it!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
This post has been bought to you by the colour yellow, with a touch of blue thrown in for good measure.
If you were to think of spring, the colour that immediately springs to mind is green. All that fresh new growth. The green is luminescent and vibrant and you can almost feel alive because of it. Its sense of well being and hope for the future is almost infectious. But we aren’t there yet. We still have 20 more days of winter. Although the signs are beginning to show.
Winter is not ready to relinquish its grip just yet and continues to pour cold water on our enthusiasm. But as a soggy season, weary gardener it is easy to see beyond the drab and embrace the hints of the new season that are emerging. And it isn’t the green that is drawing my attention, possibly because it is showing up everywhere, but the yellow. It is bright and blousy and stands out on a bleak day. It cuts through and grey and you can’t help but smile at its bravery and defiance. ‘The conditions are terrible, but that’s ok with me – I’ll hold my head tall in spite of it’ it seems to say and each time I see the amount of yellow sneaking into the garden I feel myself standing taller.
Of course the most famous yellow at this time of year is the daffodil and I have loads of them everywhere and some smell so incredible. Being able to stop throughout the day and breathe in the delicious scent, instead of just rushing by, reminds me to slow down. Nature is calling me to join its rhythm. At this time of year when the season gets going there is a temptation to rush to get things done. This season I intend to hurry slowly so I can appreciate all that is going on in my garden.
Other yellows while bright and cheerful and add to the overall enthusiasm of the spring like scene, individually aren’t such a welcome presence. Firstly because of the incessant rain my cover crops never did very well. Instead of the tall forest of green mustard plants I have been waiting for, they have all burst into flower while well short of their expected height. To add to the woes of this situation, the ground is too wet to dig them in lest I destroy my soil structure. I think I’m going to have to do a ‘chop and drop’ and hope the worms pull their weight and drag the nutrients back down into the soil in time for planting.
The other day – while listening to the BBC’s radio show Gardeners Question Time, I heard that cover crops are ideal for gardens in wet situations over winter as it locks the nutrients into the plants and prevents them being washed away, then by chopping them down and adding them back to the soil the nutrients are returned as the plant rots down and are available to the next crop. I already knew the benefits of cover crops – that’s why I use them, but this explanation for me was one of those moments when the penny drops and things make even more sense than they did before.
The other problematic yellow in my garden is in the flower bed. It is bed 35 in sector 5 so its care falls into the region of a Friday afternoon. Which to be honest does diminish its chances of a thorough overall. So the last time I weeded it I gave it a good going over – but it could have been better. And now I have horrible little groundsel flowers all over the place and about to burst their fluffy little seed pods all over the place. This is a nasty little weed because it seeds so quickly. I’m going to have to do a bit of Friday weeding on a Thursday to nip this one in the bud – and soil structure may inadvertently be destroyed in the process.
But is isn’t all bad. My blueberries already look like they are set for a bumper harvest. This year I may even share them as it is looking like there will be way more than what I can snack on as I go about my gardening business.
Come again soon – I have another project on the go.
Sarah the Gardener : o)