It’s quite funny because I seem to go on about the rain a lot and so anyone would be led to believe it is a very soggy autumn. But alas this is not the case. Since the seasons changed we have only had a couple of decent rainfalls and not really enough to undo all the damage of this summer’s drought. The boffins have proclaimed that this rain will be the one to quench the soil and break ‘the big dry’ as it is now being referred to – however it’s not looking likely. It is that annoying rain that gets things wet and makes gardening not so pleasant, but I can’t see any puddles forming.
So – to clarify – it hasn’t been raining constantly. I have done loads in the garden, in the blazing sun and working up quite a sweat – well I would have if I wasn’t a lady. Ladies don’t sweat – they glow! Well I was positively glowing. The garden has been weeded to within an inch of its life; which wasn’t too hard as the dry conditions have kept most of the unwanted interlopers at bay.
I still haven’t managed to remove the summer plants that are on their last legs, but the way I see it – is if they are on their last legs, they are still standing so there is still hope. Although I was forced to harvest the popcorn as some miserable creature had attacked it and eaten half my crop. I have words that could be used to describe that unwanted varmit; however we are in polite company so I shall just refer to the thieving swine as an undesirable inconvenience.
Another task I had to tackle was sorting out the greenhouse. Once all the spring seedlings had fled the coop I kinda abandoned the greenhouse, leaving it in a state of total chaos. The spiders spun some pretty impressive webs and somehow through the weedmat and the sandy gaps between the paving stones some pretty healthy weeds were flourishing. Seriously what is up with that? It has been like a million degrees in there over the summer, with no water and yet they thrive. Any plant I put in there in conditions that aren’t as harsh and are pampered like princesses are petulant primadonnas who will get in a huff and curl up their toes at the slightest perceived discomfort.
But the weather is changing and my autumn sowings – that have been basking in the gentle warmth of autumnal sun, needed a change of scene. They needed to be in the greenhouse to protect them from the early morning chill that has crept upon us and has me looking for socks the minute I get out of bed. So I moved them into the warmth where they will reside until I face the fact that summer is well and truly over and rip out the dregs of what was once a thriving, vibrant summer garden, and free up space for cabbages and cauliflowers and witloof. I don’t even know what witloof is – but I’m gonna give it a whirl!
When I planted my orchard, I decided the best place for it was at the far end of our property, so we would have an excuse to go to the far reaches of our land. But sometimes the trek (it’s not actually that far) seems like too much effort and so my poor orchard has only really received intermittent attention. Well this year that is all about to change. I have decided I really need to fix this situation and take proper care of the trees I planted so they will bear me the best fruit. With this new found enthusiasm for my trees I looked up what I needed to do and sprayed the peach leaves for peach leaf curl and pruned the plums – it’s a bit late for the required summer prune, but I figure it’s closer to summer than winter so close enough should be good enough. Then I got all enthusiastic with my pruners and went around the whole orchard and removed dead and diseased wood which was really easy to see, as these were the branches without leaves. I am so proud of my orchard efforts.
So things are ticking away nicely in my little horticultural paradise, but having said that there isn’t really much that needs doing. It is quite a laid back season and it is a time to enjoy the fruits of my labours. Although I do keep asking myself – surely there is something that needs to be done?
Come again soon – I’m sure there is something that needs doing…
Sarah the Gardener : o )
This time last week it was hot and muggy. So hot we slept with the door open (if you are reading this and you are a burglar contemplating robbing us blind – we very rarely sleep with everything unlocked to don’t waste your time coming over to our house). It was a restless night’s sleep after a balmy late (extremely late) summer type day. We have become quite complacent and assume that it will be warm again each day.
Then on Friday we had some friends over for dinner and we did what we usually do when we entertain – we ate alfresco. (It always sounds so much posher when you say alfresco, but it was just a BBQ with steak and burger patties and a salad I whipped up, nothing fancy.) As the sun went down we fired up the patio heater – but once again there is nothing unusual about that and often have it on when entertaining on a summer evening – we are in New Zealand after all, not somewhere tropical!
So it wasn’t until we got up to come inside that we realised just how cold it actually was. The contrast between inside and outside was considerable. All of a sudden my feet felt cold and I had to go and look for socks! Then I got into bed and realised the duvet wasn’t going to be enough for the night and so I went off in search of further bedding and chucked a couple of extra blankets on the kids beds too. If mum is cold then the whole world must be cold too. My feet never really warmed up again.
The ultimate nail in the coffin of summer is the clocks have now gone back and that one hour has a huge effect on seasonal perception. Or coincidentally there is a cold front moving up the country. Either way the nights are definitely getting longer and colder and I can no longer kid myself that it is still summer… but….
I have one more trick up my sleeve. I still have tomatoes in my garden and while there are tomatoes in my garden, no matter how manky the plant looks then it is still summer in my world, even if I have to wrap up warm to go and get one for my tea!
Come again soon – there are still loads that need harvesting so things are still as exciting as that first ripe zuke back in early spring.
Sarah the Gardener : o )
I’m sitting here listening to the sound of a steady, but not too heavy rain falling. It just seems a little odd. We have had very little rain since December and there are all these reports about how dry the summer was, breaking records all over the place. But I won’t bore you with details about the drought as I could go on forever because in extreme weather there is so much information available.
With ‘normal’ weather, no one bats an eye. There aren’t news reports about how we have had normal weather for more than 10 days in a row. No one talks about it when they meet up in the street –“Oh what normal weather we are having…” People take it for granted.
But we gardeners are in tune with the weather because the plants tell us what is going on – a limp looking tomato plant soon lets us know there hasn’t been rain in ages and it wants a drink, carrots floating away tells us there is too much water. But drought aside, my summer garden wasn’t too bad and I have a freezer full of fresh produce waiting for a cold bleak winters day to remind us all of how lovely summer was. Having said that I think I took the endless sunny days a tiny bit for granted as now that it’s raining I am disappointed that I can’t go out and garden whenever I’m ready to. I have to work around the weather. But I have things to do and I might not be able to get out there when the rain stops.
Now that last statement may seem a little selfish, being as this is exactly the kind of rain needed to break a drought and heal the earth – a soft steady rain that will slowly soak into the parched soil, restoring it to normal conditions. It’s just after over three months of gardening whenever I want, I’ve been a little spoilt and some may say I’ve become set in my ways. I need to adapt again. I need to add weather watching as part of my gardening routine, not just to avoid the rain, but as autumn creeps on by there will be that inevitable first frost. Although that seems a million miles from now.
So as the rain continues to fall, I need to plan what to do for when there is a break in the clouds. I need to hang up the new hanging baskets I made. The summer ones had completely given up the ghost and so I have made winter friendly ones with alyssum, viola, and primula’s . A nice splash of colour for those dark days ahead.
I need to continue harvesting the pumpkins and get them stored away; the chillies and peppers show no signs of letting up and harvesting is required regularly; I have winter crop seedlings that aren’t all that far away from being planted in “big plants garden.” The cooking apples and the quince are nearly ready so I’ll need to figure out what to do with them and the orchard has things that need doing to it.
I need to take down the tomatoes – although this, as always, is the last job on the list because while there are still tomatoes in the garden – no matter how manky, I can still kid myself that we are having an extended summer and winter is miles away! There is loads that needs to be done, and heaps that can be done. But for now I will patiently wait for the rain to end and be grateful that the drought appears to finally have broken.
Come again soon – we are well into autumn and I’m OK with that – I can still garden, but I may just get wet!
Sarah the Gardener : o )
Our wee stolen chicken, known as Iggy, passed away peacefully tonight. I don’t think there is anything more we could have done, as she never really got the hang of balance, and was wobbly on her feet. She was so much smaller than her brothers and sisters and she was so cute and blessed our lives for the short time she was in it. She cheeped and peeped her way into our hearts and her absence after a few short days with us, will be greatly felt. Iggy was a lovely little chicken.
Now we just need to tell the kids in the morning and hold a wee service in the field where all our other favourite chickens who have died end up. It will be a good time to stop and think about the true meaning of Easter as we say goodbye to the cutest little button.
Come again soon – the circle of life will continue on, but we will miss Iggy.
Sarah the Gardener : o )
Our chicken fence is a bit of a joke. When we took the fences down to build raised beds, we were left with all these farm gates so we lashed them together and built a fence of sorts for the chickens. Over the years the weeds have grown through the fence, taking a firm strangle hold and slowly but surely pulled the fence down.
One of our more determined chickens took full advantage of this loophole and snuck off to lay eggs in secret and found a perfect spot not far from the fence and created an igloo amongst the bindweed, which is another corner of shame we have.
Of course now all the other chickens have figured out they can get out that way too, and with no regard for the rules, walk over the weed infested gate like it is little more than a hill to be climbed, and make their way casually to my veggie patch. Luckily at this time of year there isn’t too much for them to destroy before I discover them and march them back in through the front door. This situation will be rectified really soon.
Anyway, back to my tale of fowl felony….
The mum chicken, who doesn’t have a name because having a rooster has meant chickens come and go with such regularity that you don’t want to get attached to the babies in case they become boys, so you hold off with any naming ceremony until the boys have gone, only for some other sneaky mum to show up with a secret brood. We aren’t all that great at managing livestock. Imagine what we’d be like with cows!
Anyway… yesterday the un-named mum chicken wandered out from under her igloo with seven cute little cheeping and peeping egg shaped fluffy bums. Who were immediately photographed and put on facebook – as you do…. As the evening closed in we thought it would be safer to round them up and move them into the coop. Armed with a mop and a broom, Hubby the Un-Gardener and Tim the Helper attempted to herd them in. They weren’t having a lot of luck as the theory ‘an army marches as fast as it’s slowest soldier’ also applies to a new chicken family. It was then we noticed an eighth chick who seemed to be the one holding things up.
Not being afraid of a broody overprotective mum, I – at great risk – swooped in and gathered up chicks in great handfuls and took them into the coop to the nest I had pre-made for them – to which I might add – they didn’t use! Then I shooed an angry mum in after them and all was well.
I noticed in the igloo there were some un-hatched eggs that didn’t stand a chance as the babies didn’t appear to want to sit still, and mum was constantly up chasing them all about, rounding them back up. Once she had them near, she would purr like a contented cat… She seemed to be doing a great job for an octomum. So I put the eggs in with another broody chicken who is in for a bit of a surprise if they hatch and an even bigger one if they explode!
That was yesterday. This morning she taught her brood how to escape, but left one behind and I found the smallest eighth chick crying all by itself in the coop while the others were out frolicking under the trees with mum. I took the little fella over to mum, but he struggled to keep up and when they clambered over a log, he was on his own again. (I say he – but I think and hope it’s a girl) So I gathered him up and took him inside. He was hungry, thirst and not at all steady on his feet. So I fed and watered him and tucked him up in a bed on a hot water bottle with a teddy bear for company and he had a good sleep.
Having perked up a little I took him home again to mum, who was hanging out with Dad and they were all having a lovely time learning how to look for food. Chicken is such a lovely rooster and a fantastic Dad. He was being so gentle to the babies. All was going well, although I could see just how small and unsteady my chick was next to his siblings. Then they all moved away and my baby was left disorientated and unnoticed by his family. Once they had gone some distance, I went in to see if bubby was OK and mum decided to charge me and came out all aggressive – but in the process, she stood on the baby and squashed him. Well that was it! If she wasn’t going to look after him – I would, and at great risk of peckage – I reached in and scooped him up – He’s mine now.
Come again soon –I wonder how a four day old chicken will enjoy a six hour car trip as we go away for the Easter break?
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Today we have been foraging. Our friendly local farmer told us his chestnut tree was dropping nuts all over the place and would we like them. He even brought a couple over to show us they were the proper eating ones.
Well I couldn’t say no. I mean – almost every Christmas I am taunted by the thought of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, however Jack Frost is never nipping at my nose. Christmas is too hot for all of that and there isn’t a single chestnut to be seen.
So bolstered by a vague memory too close to two decades ago than I care to admit; of the amazing taste of warm, sweet, smoky chestnuts roasted in the street of quant town in England on a freezing winter night, I decided it would be a great idea.
In my enthusiasm I raced out the door with a recycle shopping bag and a bucket and a reluctant Tim the Helper. I had just under an hour as I had to collect the Joeyosaurus from rugby practice and his number one supporter Hubby the Un-Gardener. Driving like some kind of over excited nutter (nut collector) but ever so safely through road works and down country lanes I soon found the tree and true to the farmer’s word there were prickly little orbs all over the place.
My now extremely reluctant Tim the Helper and I set about gathering as many as possible. But my boy didn’t half moan and carry on as he filled his bucket to the top. But in this particular instance – the moaning and bleating was actually justified. I think in hindsight it would have been wise to take some gloves! To give the kid credit, he did fill his bucket and I don’t imagine the afternoon will be one forgotten in a hurry and I can see him one day regaling his kids about the day he was dragged out into an autumn afternoon to have his fingertips perforated because his crazy mother was on one of her weird and wonderful projects.
After removing most of the irritating little prickles from our fingers I now have a very large bag and a bucket full of the prickly balls and my research tells me to act quickly as they can easily go stale. But with the pain in my fingers a fresh memory, I have to admit, I’m a little afraid. But I promised to make the sticky sweet glazed chestnuts as compensation for what I put him through and I can’t let him down.
Come again soon – I’m sure I’ll do something amazing with the chestnuts.
Sarah the Gardener : o )
The problem with a drought is it sucks not only all the moisture from the air, but it somehow sucks all your energy too. It’s hot outside, it’s only around 25°C but it feels like a million, and after weeks and weeks of dry hot weather it kinda beats you down… I just need to have a wee lie down and dream of rain. The entire North Island has been declared a drought zone – that’s half the country! And the other half isn’t fairing too well either. Everyone is pinning their hopes on a lovely tropical cyclone this weekend called Sandra. I hope she’s good to us.
But rain or no rain, the garden marches on and calls to me to do things to it. I have to say it – we are blessed to have swamp soil. The very soil I will be cursing in a few months for allowing itself to flood, but today it is good. It is holding on to every last drop of water and while my garden may look a little thirsty, it’s definitely not crispy. Yesterday I picked a load of tomatoes, but I think it will be the last serious harvest of the season as the plants are beginning to give up. It is such a good feeling to have got the tomatoes through the summer to have them die of old age and not some nasty disease!
There seems to always be things to harvest in the garden, it’s just finding the time to eat it all. I have made some tomato relish and put a load more in the freezer, and I’ve made some searingly hot chilli sauce from the chillies I picked the other day and it is really nice, if not a little hot. I was on a roll, I saw some grapes and a quince in the fridge that were in danger of entering the “gone too far” zone, so I cooked them up and made a jelly. I have to say that grape and quince are a winning combination. As I stood back to admire my jars all lined up – the fruit bowl caught my eye. There were mandarins, lemons, apples, a pear and a peach that were also perilously close to the “gone too far” zone, so I shoved them through my juicer and made 2 and a half jars of what l like to call “juice of the fruit bowl” jam. So yummy with a lovely citrus tang.
In the midst of all my domestic bliss-ness I had to arrange a pedicure. It sounds lovely and all relaxing and just what a hard working gardener needs. But alas, it wasn’t for me. Sweetie the goat has gone all girly and has had her feet done. Apparently she needs it again in six weeks. Seriously – I’m the only proper girl around here – it should have been me!
Come again soon – I think I need to begin the sad task of beginning remove the traces of summer from my garden.
Sarah the Gardener : o )
Finally after years of attempting to grow melons – I have succeeded. Admittedly they are on the small side – the very small side and if you compare it to a shop bought one they look like ping pong balls beside bowling balls. But I grew them so they are perfect! And this time, when sliced in half they actually looked like what they should, and the aroma was delightful… just like real ones.
And to taste… yummo! Although we only got a bite of each of the melons as they had to go around Hubby the Un-Gardener, the Joeyosaurus and Tim the Helper and me. I skewed the slicing to ensure I got the biggest bits, but I grew them… so there! But the sweet taste of success is melon flavoured and it is good!
After all the excitement of the last few days had died down – for the moment, I was finally able to get to my poor neglected garden and was pleased to say it had faired quite well without me, although it was a little thirsty. Who knows when this drought will break? The boffins say there will be “a couple of showers” on Saturday, but that is hardly likely to undo all the damage of months without rain. My extended forecast report only goes as far as April 5th there is a few showers described as “a shower”, “perhaps a shower” and “a shower possible!” They have also selected a couple of days to have “a little rain.” What we need is a down pour – for days on end. My ground is beginning to lose it and its cracking up. It may need some kind of therapy!
The chillies and peppers seem to love the conditions as they are prolific and of good quality with nice thick walls and are crunchier than a fresh apple. Now that is something I didn’t get a lot of – the bloomin’ pukekos (NZ native swamp hens) have stolen all the eating apples and pears. Grrr. They don’t seem to like Granny Smiths or Cooking Apples – so far. Maybe next year there will be enough for us all.
The other thing I tackled was the beans. I planted loads of different kinds, but I must have been having some kind of irrational moment because we don’t actually like beans all that much and they just end up in the freezer un-eaten. I did have a degree of common sense about my bean planting as half of them were dried beans – like kidney beans for those winter chilli con carnes, and haricots and pinks and a range of others that I don’t actually know how to use them – but things like that don’t stop me.
The rest were ‘fresh’ eating beans – only we didn’t and they ended up just as dried as they ones that were supposed to be dried. So I picked the lot and spent a lovely evening shelling them all into a big dish. I should really separate them into ones that look the same, in case some taste better than others and then I’ll know which was which. Having said that I don’t actually know if ‘fresh’ beans can be treated like ‘dry’ ones. I have assumed so because if they are edible in their young stage – I don’t imagine they will become poisonous overnight. If I am wrong – please some one STOP me from feeding them to my family… I reckon you’ve have about a month or two to save my family from impending doom if I’m misguided, because by then it will be cool enough outside to crave a nice bowl of hot beans – once I find out the best way to use them.
Oh I do know about the pre-soaking-tummy-ache-avoiding bit of dried bean prep… it’s just what you do next that I’m unsure of… but that has never stopped me before… I’ll give it a whirl and whip something yummy up!
Come again soon – I still have to pick the tomatoes and does anyone know when I should dig up my peanuts?
Cheers Sarah : o )
These last few days have been so cram packed with loads of exciting things with varying degrees of “oh my goodness” – There’s the one with the sharp intake of breath followed by a loud exclamation of “oh my goodness”, then there is the one where “oh my goodness” is repeated quickly in succession and accompanied by loads of hand flapping and we can’t possibly forget the “oh my goodness” with a mild case of hyperventilation thrown in for good measure!
… And the cause of all this excitement: My book has come out. It is officially available in bookstores in New Zealand and Australia. When it all started just over a year ago I said I wouldn’t believe it until I had a copy in my hands. But holding it in my hands still didn’t make it seem real enough, so I told myself I wouldn’t believe it until I saw it in the shops, and I’ve done that and I still have trouble getting my head around it, so now I think I just need someone to pinch me to prove it’s not some kind of dream I’ll wake up from in about 8 hours.
But it is all official. One of our local bookstores put it out four days early and we got the shock of our lives to see great stacks sitting on the table beside other esteemed authors. I was gobsmacked! Of course I took a photo – it seemed like the right thing to do.
Then we had the official book launch and it was such a lovely party. It wasn’t in some swanky establishment with people wafting about schmoozing. It was where is should be – in the garden that made the book possible. And the continuing drought and hot temperatures for once became a blessing as they helped make the garden the best venue for the greatest book launch – garden party I’d ever been to. Having said that I’ve never been to any other book launch – garden parties before.
As the book had its origins in a blogging competition where voting was required and often achieved through shameless cajoling of my nearest and dearest friends and family, it made sense to have them amongst the guests of this grand doo. The book is a family affair and so the launch invitation was extended to entire families and it does my heart good to see the garden alive with throngs of happy kids running about freely against the backdrop of a setting sun – long past the bed times of most of them.
Glasses were clinked and bubbles drank, and everyone who helped this book come into being was thanked, and the warmest, most genuine hugs were shared, and as the evening wore on strategically placed fairy lights sprung to life as the sun disappeared and the most amazing star-scape appeared in the cloudless night sky and the book aside, it was the most wonderful party we had hosted in such a long time.
The morning arrived with little chance for fragile heads to warm up gently… the “oh my goodness-ing” got another opportunity to show another version of itself as the glossy lifestyle section of one of the country’s largest newspapers had an article about me and the book. I knew it was coming, but didn’t realise it would have a full page picture of me (I’m not all that good with photos of myself) and the whole thing was spread over three pages! Luckily I can share it with you >HERE<
But yesterday wasn’t about me or the book; we attended the most beautiful garden wedding where our friends were also blessed with the kind of day only a drought can provide. Such a lovely couple. And now as the sun sets over my garden, I can look out from where I have exhaustedly draped myself and ponder just how blessed I am with my garden.
Come again soon – I still need to get out there and do stuff – the tomatoes need picking and things need watering, there is a drought on you know…
Sarah the Gardener : o )
There are two schools of thought when determining the official change of the seasons. Some folks believe it should be on the equinox which by my reckoning means we still have 21 more days of balmy summer days.
But the thing is… I am so impatient in the spring that I can’t make myself wait for the equinox for the spring to start – I want to sow my seeds and the thought of waiting for the equinox for summer to start is too much to bear. So for the seasons that herald the beginning of the growing season and the warm weather, I like to go with the monthly season system where the first day of September is the first day of spring and the first day of summer is the first day of December. Seriously I couldn’t stand waiting an extra three weeks for these seasons to begin. It doesn’t really matter too much when winter gets going as by then the weather is miserable and to be honest it doesn’t bother me too much what season it is because it is just yucky.
So here we are on the first day of March and as tempting as it is to extend the perception of the long hot sunny season, I really ought to be consistent. As much as I hate to admit it… today is the first day of autumn. We are beginning our long slow descent into the cold dark days. Sigh.
Although without a calendar or clock this whole thing is neither here nor there. It’s either hot or it’s not, but the clues are in the garden that the season is on the turn. Anything that can be struck by powdery mildew has been struck. The tomato plants that were once lush green plants dominating the landscape are now more like a Christmas tree left up too long and all the leaves are browning and the tomatoes are bright shades of red demanding to be harvested every day. The corn has gone… mostly. A couple of stalks are still hanging in there for a few more days. There are beds coming empty and it could all be doom and gloom.
I say “could be”, but autumn has a saving grace…. Cold weather crops. I have been sowing seeds, planting seedlings and planning where to put things and alongside the never ending harvesting and processing, this changing of the season is much more hectic than any other.
So becoming autumn isn’t really that bad, but all we need now is the soft warm autumn rain. According to the boffins at the weather office we have to wait until at least the 22nd of March. Everyone is hoping that we will be declared in an official drought situation today but what the farmers are really hoping for is a long steady rain that will soak deep into the parched soil.
Come again soon – just because its autumn doesn’t mean it’s all over!
Sarah the Gardener : o )