Since I have had my wonderful new irrigation system installed in my garden, late last year > you can read about it here <, I have had the pleasure and privilege of using it in a full weekly cycle a sum total of once! And then the rains came and didn’t stop. So, I didn’t need to use it at all – which was very frustrating as you can imagine. It is like giving a kid the latest must-have toy and then not letting them play with it, or going to your favourite restaurant and not being able to eat anything.
But I declare the new season starts now and this irrigation system will be used every day throughout this growing season. This rain can’t go on forever and I am going to prepare for drier days so I’m ready and waiting and my plants will get the best moisture support I can give them all summer long. Rain you can stop now… I’ve got this.
Before I race out there and pop all the dripper spikes where I want the plants to be and where they will be well positioned to distribute the water best throughout the bed, there are a few things I need to do. It isn’t quite that simple.
The system has sat there all winter, with empty pipes, waiting for a chance to be used. However, to just turn on the tap to full, can actually do a bit of damage. As the water rushes in to fill the void it can create a water hammer effect that can be a tad violent and can cause valves to burst, connectors to pop, break seals and damage the working mechanisms of the drippers. Add to that, some of the dripper holes may be blocked due to a season of inaction and so this all adds to the pressure build up within the pipe as the water rushes to find a way out.
The key is to remove the top of the dripper on the farthest end of the system and then slowly and gently turn the tap. Watch the open dripper for the water to come out and let it run until it is clear and free from air bubbles. This is a good sign the water way is free of blockages and the system has been primed.
Then it is important to check all the drippers to make sure all the little holes are not blocked and are free flowing, so it can distribute the water across the garden bed as intended. As there was period during the winter where my beds were actually underwater due to the worst flooding in a decade of gardening here, it is especially important for me to double check each one. Ordinarily the risk is bugs, webs and dust that can cause blockages, but for me there is the possibility that silt could have washed into the sprinkler head! Each of my sprinkler heads has 8 holes, and each bed has on average 16 sprinklers, so this may take a while. But it is a job worth doing.
While the tap is running through the system is it also a great time to look for damage, water pooling in places it shouldn’t and check for leaks. Having a system out in the elements all winter long, can make it susceptible to damage – it is just the nature of things. I’m not sure I’d fare very well if I had to stay outside all winter in the wind, rain and freezing conditions. It could be a matter of just unpopping a 4mm tube, trimming the end and resetting it on the connector against the 13mm pipe so it sits flush. In some situations, the freeze thaw process may have actually broken something, and it will need replacing. Taking the time to check the system will ensure a trouble-free irrigation season.
So, while I wait for the weather to settle down, I’m going to grab an umbrella and play with the water!
Come again soon – I’m believing for a drier season ahead.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
So much for a glorious long weekend building structures and then planting out the plants that are to be supported by them all season long.
Well after the debacle of the cucumber frame, I went to bed scratching my head and excited about the following day. What could be better for a gardener than to have the official last frost date, a public holiday and a load of plants to plant on your birthday! As far as I was concerned the planets were aligned.
The problem is – it rained on Sunday night. A lot. And didn’t stop until well after midday on Monday. So, the puddles I woke up to, on the lawn, rapidly spread to form an ocean by the end of the day. Poor Fennel the Cat thinks this kind of thing is normal as we have pretty much had constant wet weather her whole life and thinks nothing of walk through a puddle instead of going around it!
So, I didn’t even go outside – well I did once as Hubby the Un-Gardener didn’t trust himself to do a good job of picking the asparagus spears for my breakfast in bed. There were two spears that were ready, and they were so good, and I am so delighted they are showing themselves as I’d begun to think they were gone for good. I did make the mistake of nipping out there in bare feet and that was when I discovered it was not only soggy, but freezing cold as well. I consoled myself that at least I hadn’t actually planted anything out yet or they would have drowned, as I tucked into my fresh poached eggs and bacon on bagels with hollandaise sauce and two spears of steamed asparagus on the side. A birthday breakfast fit for kings!
I was completely spoilt over the course of the day – I didn’t need to lift a finger to do anything at all. I think my family sensed my frustration over the weather and may have been walking on eggshells so as not to make the day any worse! And I received some cool gifts – A vacuum pack food saver so my produce can stay fresher for longer, James Wong’s new book which is absolutely fascinating, and I will be dipping in an out of it for weeks learning scientific facts about the things I grow. I also got a gardening mag and chocolate – lots of chocolate.
The upside is the ground seems to be draining a lot faster than it did a month ago, and with the patience of a saint, I think I may be able to attentively start work on the garden again tomorrow. The boffins are suggesting I have 10 days before the next burst of outrageous rainfall, so I’d better make the most of it. That cucumber frame isn’t going to build itself.
Come again soon – the garden is almost dry – again!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Here we are in the middle of the best weekend of all time – Labour Weekend. Saturday was OK weather wise – a bit blowy, but the boffins are telling us the rest of the weekend will be soggy! How is that supposed to make gardening fun?! I’ll choose to ignore the boffins – they’ve been wrong before.
It still isn’t all that warm out there – it certainly doesn’t feel balmy, so I’m not in a hurry to plant out my plants just yet. Which is fine as I have structures to prepare first! So far I have set up my tomato bed to provide the support my tomatoes will need to grow up nice and strong.
I started by using a very heavy sledge hammer to bang in 6 warratah posts, 3 on each side, on the ends and in the middle – making sure the holes were all facing inward. Next I used washing line wire and threaded it through the posts to create two fence like structures. But I wasn’t finished there. Tomatoes can grow very tall and in late summer without support, it a bit of a wind and under the weight of juicy fruit they can bend over and even snap. So I popped in some tall metal rebar posts beside the warratah posts and cable tied them in place to keep them strong. Heavy duty string was then strung across them several times to give the plants something to be tied to, to stop them whipping about in the wind.
My aim is to plant 10 plants down each side and then tying them into the wire as they grow for support. I always aim to have lovely single stem examples but it never happens – a side shoot or two always get away on me! So this method is great for keeping everything restrained and supported.
You can see how I did it here:
I have other structures to create before I can finally plant out my wee seedlings so keep your eye out for the next post and video showing you all about my cucumber trellis. I went out and bought some bolt cutters to get the job done… exciting times.
Come again soon – there is more constructing to be done!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Ohhhh…. Here we are on the eve of the most exciting gardening weekend in the entire calendar. More exciting that the sweet sensation of that first strawberry, crunch of the first pea or the delight that comes from the first sun warmed tomato eaten right there in the garden. This weekend is like all of those things combined and more. It is the weekend that has the green light for go. The risk of frost is all but behind us and it is an extra-long weekend with a national holiday on Monday for Labour Weekend thrown in for good measure and if the weather plays fair we have 3 whole days to plant the garden out! I’m so excited just thinking about it.
It was touch and go whether my garden would be ready, but it has been 12 days since that last flood incident and there hasn’t been rain since. Well there has been a few drops here and there, but they don’t count. So, I’ve managed to sort out most of the beds – well … the ones that matter the most. The soil is in that sweet spot where it is dry enough to be crumbly, but damp enough to reassure me my seedlings will settle in well. My tender seedlings have been hardened off and we are good to go.
I love to stand back and look about at all these empty beds, with fluffy soil ready to go. There is so much potential waiting to happen. It also looks quite tidy and fresh – like a table set for dinner. Come January the plants will be lolling all over the place, the weeds will be attempting to take over and the very edges will begin to look a little manky as the beginning of the end sets in. Kind of like that same table during dinner – half eaten meals, smudges on the tablecloth where small hands have been wiped and a spill or two of gravy across the top. But for now, this is the fresh start and it will be a good season because it just has to be.
I think I will start by creating the structures my plants need to support them as they grow. It is always best to do this before planting things as you find you need to stomp about the place to get them just right. There is also the risk of damaging fragile roots as you drive stakes in beside plants so it is much better to do it the other way round.
Once I’ve created all the structures and created the skeleton of my garden for the season, I will then with great care and excitement, plant the seedlings I have cossetted and nurtured for so long. It always feels weird to me to just plop them in the ground and leave them there, but it is what needs to happen and I have many plants to plant. It will take several joyful hours, if I savour the moment and take special care of each and every one.
As I head off to bed tonight I will be like a kid on Christmas eve, barely able to sleep because of the fun to come in the morning.
Come again soon – there’s so much fun to be had!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
There is never a dull moment in my world. Actually, no that isn’t true – there have been plenty of dull moments this spring while I wait for my recently almost dry soil to drain again after yet another deluge and to be honest it is as dull as watching paint dry. But we haven’t had an inundation in over a week so I’m going to boldly say “I think we are passed that nonsense now and are on our way to better summer weather.” I hope that doesn’t come back and bite me.
But there are moments of excitement to be had that makes the tedium pale in comparison. And you can’t get more exciting that yesterday. The police came!
Just to back up the story a wee bit, the last we spoke, I had come home from a day trip to a spot of flooding. Which of course was followed by a lot of the waiting I mentioned above. And with every day I would venture out to test the soil to see if it was good enough to work. As much as was desperate to get on and sort out the garden, my soil quality comes first and so I waited. But my heart was anxious. I had a garden visit scheduled for one week and one day after that most recent flood situation and I wanted the garden to look perfect for my visitors.
Throw in some school holidays, a family visit and a 12th birthday party and a head cold – going on a two hour each way, day road trip with a kid with a cold wasn’t one of our best ideas. Having said that staying at home and watching the rain would have been upsetting – all these things conspired to make gardening a no-go activity. And I had to make myself realise there is no such thing as a perfect garden. It is a misnomer. Vegetable gardens are working gardens and there is always something that needs to be done. They are never finished. Chuck in some unruly nature and there you have it – a garden that is what it is.
I managed to squeeze in snatches of time here and there so I wasn’t too ashamed of the garden when my guests arrived. I’ve had guests before in my garden and I love showing it off. But these ones were special. They were coming a long way and they were coming by bus! I’d never had a bus tour before.
I discussed it with the organiser and said we’d had large trucks etc down our driveway before – not to mention the very large truck that finally removed Hubby the Un-Gardener’s very large boat from our backyard after many months of overstaying its welcome while having in Hubby the Un-Gardeners words “a bit of a tidy up… “. But we decided to leave it up the bus driver to decide – he could always check it out from above on Google Maps. So, it was decided months ago that my garden would be the last stop in a wonderful garden tour itinerary for a bus load of keen gardeners from ‘up north.’
Finally, the day came and with a fresh mow and a few last minute weeds pulled, the garden was ready for public scrutiny. We’d come a long way from those waterlogged days and was almost in a state of respectability. As I stood back and felt a little proud of my poor bedraggled garden, the bus arrived and turned into our driveway. But it turned a little too sharply and got wedged. Because of the angle and the position of the door, my guests got off the bus and waited on the road until everyone was out and the door was shut. Then they squeezed past the gate and I welcomed them into my garden, leaving the poor bus driver to figure out what to do – with the bus not budging and its back end blocking one lane of the road in front of our house. Fortunately, it isn’t a very busy road.
I ushered the guests into my garden and we had a chat and a tour and a cuppa tea and a pleasant afternoon was whiled away while waiting for the bus to become unstuck. Their visit was only supposed to be an hour and a half but they were able to soak up the sun in my garden for another hour more. They were such a lovely group and no one moaned or complained, but I think that is the nature of gardeners – they are the loveliest people you would every want to meet.
It wasn’t so calm and tranquil out on the road – a passing tractor snapped a chain trying to drag it out and then the police arrived – just a couple of cars – one to manage the situation and the other to direct the infrequent traffic. There were traffic cones and everything. The school bus sailed past three times on its route to collect and deliver children and my kids and their friends were rather amused at the situation. Eventually a heavy duty tow truck arrived, the police stopped traffic at both ends of our road and three cars had to do a detour. Effortlessly the truck removed the bus from its steadfast position and the gardening folk let out a collective “Hoorah!”
Under police escort they were guided across our not so busy road and they boarded their bus with yet another story to tell of a stuck bus on one of their exciting garden visits (yes it had happened to them before!) As they waved goodbye and headed off into the evening traffic towards the city, and the police collected their cones, we wandered back into the garden and counted the day as another successful garden visit. I’m looking forward to the next one – but maybe we won’t do parking for buses in future.
Come again soon – the last frost date is days away and the real planting can get started.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I don’t know why I was surprised when we returned from a day out to find the garden flooded again. I wracked my brain to try and remember was the ground sticky when we’d left, or did the inundation happen in the 7 hours we were gone. It had been a horrible night previously. The wind howled like some demented banshee and kept me awake with worry.
But as I cautiously peeled back the curtain, my bunting was still in place, where I’d imagined it torn to shreds. Even the cloches over the peas were still in place. After the storm last week there had been minor damage to the bunting, which I repaired and my cloches were no longer protecting my peas but other crops and some weeds in other beds in the garden.
And more importantly the greenhouse was not in a broken tangled mess of glass shards, twisted aluminium and crushed tender foliage as my imagination had envisioned. In the light of day, the greenhouse had stood strong through yet another storm. So, as we left for the day I had a relief in my heart that the boffins were wrong again about the rain and I’d been spared the worst.
The ground had only just become safely workable in most areas – all except the back row. I’d planted spuds, weeded almost everywhere and even turned my attentions to the much overdue strawberries. I had a skip in my step as I walked away from a day in the garden the day before. Ok the skip was imaginary, it was more of a weary, bedraggled crawl but felt as satisfying as a skip would have. There was good progress being made and despite the boffins warnings for the next day it couldn’t possibly be that bad… we are almost closer to summer than winter … almost, but it would appear not close enough.
So now I’m back to waiting for the garden to dry out. I’m not as frustrated as I was before as in the last dry spell I had achieved so much. But it is still frustrating as I’d really like to get on. It is supposed to rain a bit more for the next few days but that is supposed to be just showers so they don’t really count. The boffins are suggesting for today: “A few showers, more frequent with possible thunderstorms and hail this afternoon and evening.” So, I won’t garden today.
This isn’t a moan – it is more a statement of fact. Because I saw something in the soggy soil and puddles in the garden this morning as I surveyed the scene. Something that caused me heart to be delighted. A hope and a promise for better times. I’m taking this as my biblical rainbow – I’m believing there will be no more excessive rain.
You see – I’d been worried – very worried. I was almost too afraid to admit it. It pretty much hasn’t stopped raining since March. As at the end of September we had had 99% of the normal expected rain for the year – with three months still to go. September alone had 130% compared to normal! And not to forget the worst flooding we have seen here in 10 years of living here back in April. So, it is fair to say the garden has had a lot to contend with – especially my poor perennials.
We have lost a few trees – as the trees burst into life with fresh green colours, there are those that remain dark and bare. The rhubarb has struggled, not gone, just failing to thrive. The artichokes have come back but the leaves err on the side of yellow as they struggle with each new rainfall. But the thing I was most worried about was my asparagus. To begin with they were showing up around Fathers Day in September each year and it was a fabulous way to celebrate the day with fresh poached eggs and asparagus for breakfast in bed. In recent years they began showing up much earlier in August and were a delight and a pleasure to be eaten so soon in the season.
But this year there was nothing in August, so I waited hopeful for September and Fathers Day came and went. Thoughts started to enter my mind but I brushed them away. Maybe the asparagus had drowned, or rotted away in the perpetual sogginess. My precious 7 year old asparagus. I couldn’t bear to believe it. If it was gone, it would be three years before we could taste the sweet tender taste of fresh asparagus. If I wanted more pickled asparagus I’d have to buy it! The suggestion of a barren asparagus patch filled me with sadness.
But this morning – in a sea of wet – there standing tall and proud in the middle of the asparagus bed was a thin bedraggled spear. All was not lost. If the asparagus could survive that horrendous winter and carry on then so could I.
As I wait for the moisture to recede I am now full of excited impatience and not downcast in frustration. The garden will dry out once again and I shall garden on and grow a good crop. Life is good and I’ll be eating asparagus for seasons to come.
Come again soon – I think I need some kind of indoor project for the next few days.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
It has been an interesting week. It hasn’t rained for a start. Well not much. These days rain doesn’t count unless it is bucketing down. And Sunday doesn’t count as this week, because if it did then I would have to say we had yet more torrential rain and we ended up with surface water across the lawn and paths again. So I’m happy to put Sunday as part of last week. Things are still a little sticky out there, but its drying out… again.
Most of this week was spent doing what I like to call panic speed weeding as I had a lovely garden group come to visit me on Wednesday and between having a mostly sodden garden and few sunny days over the last few weeks, I’ve been a bit anxious. But somehow I managed to pull it off and most of the garden looked weeded and cared for and we had a lovely time. The sun even came out with a bit of a sting in and I ended up with unexpected sunburnt shoulders! I will now have to reach for the sunscreen and my hat before entering the garden from now on.
There is still the back row – the Friday sector to deal with. The poor Friday Sector – I start with a whiz and a bang on a Monday and that sector always looks good. Which is just as well as it is the front row. But by the time Friday rolls round the poor back row may potentially suffer a touch of neglect. I don’t entirely blame myself, as it seems to be the wettest part of the garden and so it takes longer to dry out and to be honest I don’t actually think it has dried out since it started raining in March! The poor raspberries drowned in the April floods. They have gone and there is no signs of spring life from their neglected corner. I have bought some new ones and have raised the bed higher, but haven’t been able to fill it up because the lovely swamp soil is too wet and sticky to dig up. The same goes for my poor rhubarb. That needs raising too. I have a lot of things just waiting for the conditions to improve. In the meantime the back row is raging out of control in an otherwise orderly garden.
So aside from frenzied mowing, edging and weeding in the early part of the week, a delightful visit in the middle, a day off to rest and recover, today continued to be sunny and not knowing how long that would last I took the opportunity to get my potatoes in. My Christmas Jersery Bennes are doing well in pots and need mounding up, and I have some Swift potatoes due out next week – hogging space in the greenhouse – I might begin to move them outside, but I’ll have to watch for late frosts. This meant there was space for another row in the spud bed, so I added some Heather to the Ilam hardy, Rua and Waiporoporo I already had chitting for ages. It felt good to get them in, as it is almost a month later than I normally plant them and the Rua – a variety I haven’t grown before but is a good keeper, which is why its commonly found in stores takes 160 days! So I won’t be digging them up until some time in March!
This is more for me but I planted the Waiporoporo on the left in the first row as they take 110 days, then the Heather and Ilam Hardy both take 130 days so I planted them next in alphabetical order and then finally on the right the Rua. I also wrote the expected harvest day on the label and put it in my calendar like it is an appointment. It is just as well the Ilam Hardy come out on the same day as the Heather as I may get a little confused about ‘Taking out Heather” at 10:00am on the 12th February next year! I’d also like to pick up another 60 – 90 day variety for putting into pots once the Swift come out – to keep up a continuous supply. We’ll have more spuds than we know what to do with!
The boffins are threatening heavy rain again this Sunday. I’d like to pretend I didn’t see that, but I really can’t put off my strawberries any more. The ideal time was back in July August, but the low lying bed in the soggy end of town just hasn’t dried out since then! So I’m going to take the plunge – the poor things are beginning to fruit and are in such a neglected state. So that is my Saturday job. Sorting out ever so slightly still sodden strawberries. It has to be done and then I can stop worrying about them!
Come again soon – there are loads of tasks of varying sizes to be done before we can slip into the gentle ebb and flow of weeding, watering and waiting for the harvest.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
The sun has been shining all week and I’ve been doing some great gardening. Mostly weeding, but I have even managed to do some planting. My poor peas, sown in good faith ages ago have been sitting and waiting for the soil to dry out with as much anticipation as I have been. Fortunately they were still a lush green, but you could tell they were at the point of almost turning to a pasty sickly yellow.
Liberating them into the garden was a relief and a blessing and you can almost see them breathe a sigh of relief. I certainly did as they were beginning to sneak into my dreams in a creepy ‘plant me… ohhhh plant me” kind of a way. I also sowed a row of pea seeds to go with them so when these wee ones are nearly done the seed ones will rise up and take over. This is probably one of the few times you can say that in a nice way!
The biggest problem my peas faced last season was the birds. In previous seasons the tended to leave them alone. But once they found them their was no stopping them with their pecking leaves and nipping out the growing tips, leaving me with nothing but munted stunted plants and no possibility of a single pea!
So I took matters into my own hands and created out of desperation the ultimate bird scaring device. I really hope it works – because I like peas – that’s why I grow them! You can check out what I came up with here and even watch the whole pea planting and sowing process. Most of it is in fast forward, which makes watching Fennel the Cats antics rather amusing.
If you want to find out more about the cloches you can read about how I made them >HERE<
Come again soon – I’m desperate to know if it works, and will let you know.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Finally, the rain has stopped for long enough for the soil to dry out enough to begin the laborious task of digging and weeding. This is when I regret having such a large garden, but this feeling soon passes as the garden is transformed from weedy overgrown mess to something respectable. And when I am sitting in my garden with a basket full of goodies to make our dinner table fresh and exciting I give my early spring self a bit of a nod for all the hard work and care and attention that makes the abundant harvest possible.
Because it is down to the hard work done in these early days in the garden that determine the ultimate success. An inevitable part of getting the garden ready for the spring is to clear away the weeds and I have to say they are very sneaky. Even the most well cared for garden isn’t immune. All it takes is a few weeks of inclement spring weather and boom – they adore it in there and flourish. Tiny little specimens barely noticed soon become your worst nightmare.
And so I have been watching with horror as day after day and week after week my poor sodden garden became greener and greener and not through my enthusiastic gardening efforts, but my lack of them. Beds that were once declared ‘spring ready’ a few months ago were now riddled with weeds and I longed for conditions to be ideal so I could tackle them.
Well this day has come and I have been able to reacquaint myself with some of my old nemesis that like to attempt domination in my garden. Dock and buttercup are two of my most common foe and due to the damp conditions in my swamp soil, they really can’t be avoided. Weeds like certain soil conditions and once you understand this, you can almost predict who will pop up each year. I have managed to reduce the numbers over the years but until the conditions change they will always be there. The best way to tackle these is remove them while they are little – as it is much easier. This applies to all weeds to be honest. But sometimes it isn’t possible at all and I don’t recommend weeding in the rain. Besides you lose half of your garden soil, clinging to the roots of stubborn weeds if you try to weed in soil that isn’t dry enough. The other key with these is to make sure you remove every last little trace. A tiny piece of dock root left deep in the soil will regrow and be stronger than ever!
Other weeds that can be a pain in the garden aren’t difficult to remove, but they spread so quickly that it takes just as much effort as difficult plants as you seem to take twice as long to clear the earth. Weather permitting it is best to remove these before they set seed. Like grass. I have so many grass clumps making themselves at home in my former salad and soon to be brassica bed that it could almost mow it and call it a lawn. Except I don’t want it to be one. And it wasn’t that long ago that this was one of my ‘in control’ beds!
So once you know what you are dealing with, then the key is the right tool for the job. There is no point struggling away trying to rip something out with your bare hands when you can pry it out with a garden fork or in a tight space twist it out with weeding trowel designed for the purpose. When you have a huge weedy mess to tackle you need to work smarter, not harder so you don’t end up completely exhausted with achy muscles at the end of the day.
Another tip is to work with the weeds behind you so when you look up to wipe the sweat off your brow, all you see is what you have achieved and not what you still have to do. It is much better for your motivation and self-encouragement that way – at the end can often come as a surprize!
So having spent a few days out there toiling in the soil, I’m about to jump back into it so my garden is for once and for all ‘spring ready!’
Come again soon – Once the weeds are gone we can get on with the fun stuff – planting stuff!
Sarah the Gardener : o)