SARAH THE GARDENER

Where the heck have I been?

I have been absent for quite some time.  Sorry.

I haven’t been doing nothing, I have been blogging – just not here.  I created 53 blogs over 95 days outlining the ups and downs of spring and early summer veggie growing.  For my efforts I picked up a minor prize of a couple of gardening books.  Yay!  Well it would have been rude to go for the major prize of a $1000 as I won that in the autumn version of the competition last time round!  If you want to check it all out then feel free to click here and see.

I also made a wee movie of my garden and popped it on You Tube showing it at it’s pre-Christmas glory – Before all the seasonal neglect kicked in!  You can see part one here and part two here!

Come again soon – we have some catching up to do!

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

You gotta love living in the country…

Something I was not expecting happened today and I really wanted to share our surprise and excitement.

We had calf club today. This happens in rural schools where kids rear a calf, lamb or goat, and then take them to school and compete for awards and the opportunity to go to the next level:  Group Day, competing against kids from other schools in the area.

Kids and Kids getting ready for Calf Club

Normally we like to have Boomerang lambs – bottle feed them, teach them a few tricks, do the day at school, wean them and give them back to a farmer who really knows how to do the farming stuff.  We can’t really keep them as I have taken down all the fences to build raised beds for the veggie gardens!

The problem is this year the farmers did really well and there weren’t many orphan lambs – which was reflected in the increase in goats at calf club this year.  So we had two wee goats  that featured in an earlier blog and not being farmers, we had put in very little effort, other than feeding the goats and keeping them alive (which was a surprise in itself!)  Off we went  today with no expectations and came home with a cup and a trophy and the title “Agricultural Day 2011 Champion Goat”.  Tim the Helper was as shocked as we were!  We hadn’t even groomed them and apparently you are supposed to!

The proud owner of a Champion Goat

It all went well on the circuit for Tim the Helper his goat lead around the obstacle course well and Snowy came when called – although it started by eating grass so we thought – no chance but she looked up and went running to Tim the Helper.  Then the goats were checked over for “rearing” which is how well they have been looked after and how healthy they are.  The friend who found them for us told us they were actually pure breeds so maybe I should have gone to just a little more effort!

Tim the Helper and Snowy - a great team

So Tim the Helper ended up with a red ribbon for leading and calling and a blue ribbon for rearing. (for those not au fait with country speak – that’s two 1sts and a 2nd).

The Joeyosaurus had a more difficult day.  Sweetie runs rings around him and so when it came to the big day she was having nothing to do with it and was stubbornly dragged about the course.  Even the judge tapped her butt with his foot to move her along!  In the end wee Joeyosaurus ended up picking her up and carrying her off the course!

Sweetie really didn't want to do this today.

Although Sweetie has a mind of her own – she does love Joe and so when it came to calling, she had a quick taste of the grass and then headed off straight towards him.  He struggled with her collar and then she wouldn’t leave the arena, but they got a blue ribbon for their efforts.  For the rearing category Joey got 4th.  Man I really should have given them a shampoo and blow dry!  So all in all the Joeyosaurus got a blue and a light blue ribbon.

Then while the judges deliberated, Hubby the Un-Gardener took on the role of entertaining the crowds doing his quick fire raffle thing and then prize giving came along and they kept calling Tim the Helpers name – he got a trophy and purple ribbon for Champion Goat and a rather large cup and purple ribbon for Champion Goat Leading.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a cup or trophy for anything!  He also got a light purple ribbon for reserve champion for goat calling!

Quite a successful day. The Joeyosaurus is holding Tim the Helpers trophy as he had too much to hold.

So Tim the Helper is definitely through to Group Day after the school holidays, but by some small miracle or the blessing of being in a small school The Joeyosaurus also qualified for Group Day!  I think I need to learn how to groom goats!    The thing with working with animals and small children is you never know how it will go on the day and there is every chance the  Joeyosaurus could come away with Champion Goat at Group Day – you never know.

But all in all a great day was had by all and all four Kids are exhausted!  Living is the country is the coolest thing!

Competing is such hard work when you are only 7 weeks old!

Come again soon – the garden is really coming on and the weather is warming up – its so exciting at this time of year!

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

I feel like I am walking a fine line in a balancing act and may spread myself too thin.

It may look cold and empty - but soon it will be a thriving jungle!

The problem is I love my garden.  I’m not the greatest gardener in the world and my garden can best be described as “rustic.”  But it is my little slice of paradise that I can indulge myself, taking comfort from the knowledge that my family are being fed food that is not only healthy, fresh, has a low carbon footprint, low air miles, is cheap and of a variety that we wouldn’t normally be able to buy.  (I mean – I have TWO kinds of artichoke! One I’ve never seen at the supermarket and the other I have but it would blow the budget right out of the water.)  And it is spring.  What better time to be a gardener with a whole season full of promise ahead.

Artichoke - the first of many.

I also love to write about my garden.  I really enjoy coming inside in the evening and sitting down and my keyboard and weaving a story about my efforts (or more frustrating – the lack of effort).  I revel in the challenge of making something as mundane as spreading poop onto the cold damp soil that will soon be home to the most delicious varieties of tomato, into a tale that would be a joy to read about and even possibly make someone laugh with me.  I want to share my proud moments and my downfalls with someone – anyone.

New season tomatoes - waiting in the wings

But at the same time it doesn’t matter if no one actually reads it.  I’ve done my best and put it out there and I feel good.  Although I have to admit it does feel really cool when people actually do read it!

It all seems quite simple and straight forward – I garden, I write, I share.  But the crux of the problem is there is too much sharing going on and I couldn’t possibly cut back as it all has a place.

Strangely (and I really can’t figure this one out) but not all my friends or family are into gardening.  Some don’t even have gardens! Shocking I know!  But this means they only really humour me when I rabbit on excitedly about my latest antics, so I need an outlet, and have come up with 3.

The greenhouse - before I started running out of space!

My favourite one is here, because there are no constraints on me.  I can share as often as I like on any topic of my choosing and it is secretly exciting to think someone on the other side of the world might read this.  I spent all winter reading with a mix of envy and inspiration the summer gardening endeavours of others in the northern hemisphere and I really want to repay the favour so in the depths of winter someone can reach into my blog and briefly feel the warmth of the summer sun.

The other place I am currently sharing is much more constrained and local.  I love to hang out in the virtual pages of a local gardening competition.  I won it last time, so I’m not trying to win it again (gardeners are such nice friendly people), I just want to hang out with gardeners who all keep coming back to the same place for the 3rd season.  Others have won before also, and some are still trying to win, but it is seasonal and the advice and the support flows freely.  However to receive the support and the feedback you need to stay noticed, which means blogging regularly – at best I’m doing it every other day and will be until it ends on Christmas eve, and I also need votes – but not too many – just enough to stay noticed but not so many that it looks like I am trying to steal the prize money out of the hands of another well deserving gardener. The creative cost is quite high – you need to be seen to be using certain products and growing certain seeds to remain eligible.  But it is such a nice friendly place to be that I’ll be there until the jolly man in red drops gardening gifts down my chimney!

The goats are growing - Tim the helper with Snowy.

The last place I like to be online is you tube – although I am very camera shy and tend to make funny faces by accident when filming myself. But I am so proud at what I have achieved with what was once a bare paddock that I want to show people.  I also have the same northern / southern hemisphere thing going on and have a couple of subscribers anxiously waiting for the visions of summer whilst surrounded by snow.

Sweetie runs rings around The Joeyosaurus!

So if you can’t find me here you could find me here or here…  I’ll be around somewhere – telling someone something about my garden.

Come again soon – the sun is warming up and there is bound to be something I “just have to share”

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

What is that splash of red in among the daffodils?

It’s not really possible to plant ‘all year round plants’ directly into our ground – unless they are suited to being submerged for a couple of months!  It has been suggested I grow rice in the off season.  Normally around this time of year the ground is a soggy boggy mess but this year I thought it would be different.

It had been dry for weeks and strangely ­– while still damp – the soil in the raised beds had started to crack!  I was able to mow around the beds and things were looking great.  It would be an awesome start to spring – warm and dry.  Until last week.  Boy did it rain – and rain – and rain.  A whole week of rain, with little chance of a let up. In the 10 day forecast with showers predicted for almost every day.

Soggy and Boggy

Now I need “boat shoes” to get about the garden.  Actually it’s my gumboots I need.  I had decided I didn’t need them any more this season and cast them aside (not upside down on the boot rack), preferring slip on gardening shoes.  This hasty laziness had serious repercussions.  Just when I needed them most, they had filled with water.  There was nothing for it but to pour water out and put plastic bags in so my socks would stay dry.

Bag lined boots!

Most of my gardening energies have been focussed on vegetables and edible crops as I learned to master the art of providing year round produce for our family and now I feel as confident as you can when there are variables such as weather, pest and disease, I have decided this season to explore the floral side of gardening.

I already have a small collection of spring bulbs and flowers in buckets with holes in the bottoms, up on my deck as putting them directly into the sodden soil would have as much chance of flowering as popping a dollar coin in the ground and growing a money tree (although one of those would be lovely).

one dollar

I also have a small raised bed on the edge of the veggie patch that is loaded with spring bulbs and self-seeded poppy seeds.  The rule of thumb is to sow poppies on ANZAC day in April and take time to remember those who gave their lives for us and then get a wonder display of red flowers in the spring and summer.

I have been so focused on the tulips and daffodils and other robust spring flowers that the thought of a flower that seems so delicate was far from my mind.  Until the other morning when I looked out from my bed across to my garden.  (The spring display is cleverly arranged so that it can be enjoyed every morning from the warmth and comfort of bed.)  Well there it was – a splash of red!  What could it be?  I decided it must have been some rubbish blown there by the howling wind that accompanied the rain and decided not to get out of bed to investigate as the temperature had also dropped when the wind and rain came, and I wasn’t ready to allow my cosy feet to come in contact with the cold floor.

What's that red thing?

The wind and rain briefly died during the day and the sun came out for the shortest time and so I nipped outside to remove the “rubbish” only to find it was a beautiful – if not slightly bedraggled poppy.

It's a flower!

The first Poppy

Excited about the prospect of a fragrant sea of beautiful colour – I have sown heaps of flower seeds.  I figure I now have 6 weeks to decide where to put them and then make raised beds so they don’t drown!

Come again soon – there may be a laugh of two to be had, watching me learn floral gardening!

Sarah the Gardener : o )

The baby chickens are growing bigger everyday

 

Brandy is a great Mum

Potting Up Seedlings

Just a quick wee message:

The first lot of seedlings are ready to be transferred from the seed raising mix into their own little pots.

Check out my You Tube movie showing how I did it.

Click on the link above to watch my movie

There is even a clip of the baby chickens going “peep peep peep!”

Come again soon – for more tales of how this spring is unfolding.

Sarah the Gardener : o )

Yet more babies….. Spring is in the Air

I’m the kind of person who can get distracted by the garden quite easily.  I was supposed to be doing some businessy stuff and went out to the office in search of a pen.  In this digital age it seems like quite an odd thing to need a pen! (I still have to scan and file the forms before I send them off – would have been heaps easier if it was an online form in the first place!)  Anyway I thought while I was out there I’d just nip across to the greenhouse to check on the seeds.

Over 60 varieties of seeds waiting to burst forth

I planted them on Monday afternoon and although all my knowledge tells me they won’t be up yet – I have still been checking on them twice a day (and some!), under the pretence I’m making sure they are still nice and damp in their soil, but deep down hoping – but not expecting – to see a hint of green.

Well lo and behold – there it was – not just a hint of green, but a whole row!  I actually made a loud gasp sound!  The rocket was rocketing.  In a little under 5 days they had pushed through into the light.  WOW.  What a surprise.

And the first to break through the soil is the Rocket

I hastily checked everything else, but nothing – yet.  On Monday I had gone ahead and sowed seeds for everything except flowers (because I ran out of time) and the plants that really do need to be started in the warm ground – beans, corn etc.  Just counting it up, I planted over 60 varieties of vegetable and herb.

I also planted carrots, parsnips and radish seeds in the ground in neat rows – I love order in my garden.  I lay plastic trellis over the rows to stop Toast the Cat and Brandy the Chicken from digging them up.  The trellis was a little too short but I thought it would be an enough of a deterrent.  I was wrong.  When the carrots do come up they will be mostly in a row with the end bit being a higgledy piggledy mess.  GRR.

I like order and straight lines .... the top of the bed is going to be a mess of carrots. Thanks Toast the Cat!

So back to today…  I took my pen back inside and got distracted by the new bag of chicken food at the door so I thought – I’d better take it over to them, but as I got near the coop I could hear a little sound.  Did my ears deceive me?  It couldn’t be 3 weeks already.  The noise coming from over by where Brandy the escape artist chicken had her nest was a little PEEP PEEP PEEP.  I dropped the chicken food – well it was heavy anyway – and went over to check it out.

Not one, not two but three fluffy chicks peeping and cheeping loudly.  For our chickens this is a bit of a miracle.  The most we have ever had from a broody chicken is one solitary baby and the last one turned into a boy – which is no good to us – we need girls!  Brandy is still diligently sitting on the nest so we may get more, but for now I am over the moon to have three!

Proud Brandy the Chicken and the first three of her babies

As our chickens are kind of mongrels – chickens of dubious parentage and are of no specific breed the babies are all a bit of a mixed bag.  So far we have a traditional fluffy yellow one that wouldn’t look out of place in a spring greeting card, we have one with stripes?! and just in time for the Rugby World Cup we have an All Black one!

I’ll try and post more pictures of the babies as soon as I can but at the moment they are all tucked up under mum’s wing where I can’t get at them with my zoom lens!

No paparazzi please!

Between the goats (who are doing well) the chicks and my seedlings – spring is doing its thing at our place!

Come again soon – see how many more babies we get.

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

Goodbye winter….. Hello Spring!

Today is the first day of spring – YAY!

Even the bee’s know its spring!

My spring has started a little too early in the day for my liking.  Hubby the Un-Gardener left the house at 4am to go to the airport as he was heading off to Wellington to go on the Telly to promote his new book “Selling yourself to employers” which is being released today by his publishers.  Sadly I won’t be able to watch him as our TV stopped working about a month ago and we have been enjoying its absence – although apparently we may need to do something about it before the Rugby World Cup, although I’m not that bothered.

So anyway – here I am in bed, in the dark, with my laptop, listening to the roosters (one still has to go) and have been joined by the early rising Joeyosaurus and its 5:30 in the morning.  Something is very wrong with this situation. I don’t do mornings.

Spring Treasures

As I am awake I may as well enjoy the first morning of the spring and make plans in my head about all I want to do today, this week, this spring and for the rest of the year.  Someone told me yesterday that there is only 16 weeks until Christmas but you shouldn’t think about Christmas until at least late October so I’ll pretend I never heard there were only 16 weeks until Christmas!

Today is going to be crazy, mostly because Hubby the Un-Gardener has taken the car.  So I have bribed a good friend to run me round a bit today.  I have been making all the bits and pieces that go into a lasagne to be assembled later to share for tea.  I made the fresh pasta from our eggs, and mozzarella cheese to go in the cheese sauce.  So all I have to do now is make the cheese sauce and tomatoey / meaty bit – using tomatoes from last season of course.  I have also made butter for bread rolls as I have found cream is cheaper to buy than butter and it’s actually really easy to make.   Only the best food will do when you are bribing friends!

Ahhhh - Pretty

I hope to squeeze in some time in the garden as I really want to get a row of peas and a row of carrots in, and maybe some other stuff.  I also want to plant more things in the greenhouse, to give them a good head start by the time they have to go out at Labour Weekend.

This spring is going to be good – we will have cutie fluffy babies about the place – although the goats are growing fast and Brandy the Chicken doesn’t have that great a track record of actually hatching eggs. The daffodils and tulips are starting to put on quite a show and before you know it the greenhouse will be a sea of green seedlings waiting for their chance in the sun.

Brandy the Chicken sitting on about 15 eggs

As the first ribbon of light stretches across the horizon, I am excited about all spring has to offer – longer, lighter days; warmer temperatures and the promise of summer.  But despite everything I shall miss the winter – a tiny bit.  This winter has actually been quite kind to us and was actually quite mild with only 2 or 3 really cold bits.  We have only used one and a half loads of firewood where we would normally be tucking into our third load by now!  The rain that caused the ground to become a soggy boggy mess was really annoying but unlike previous years it happened in the beginning of the winter and not the end, making spring garden preparation really enjoyable.

I reckon asparagus with poached fresh eggs for breakfast this Saturday - yum!

The sky is getting lighter and the birds have begun a lovely dawn chorus – I should really wake up early more often.

Snowy and Sweetie growing bigger every day.

I need to start thinking of getting up soon as the goat kids and the boy kids will all need feeding and I need to start the first day of spring by making my own cuppa tea!  I hope Hubby the Un-Gardener’s book success doesn’t interfere with my morning cuppa tea too often!

Come again soon – spring has sprung!

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

We have babies – tiny babies – sooooo cute!

The kids getting to know the kids!

Our menagerie has increased by 2 and in the nick of time.  We have baby goats.  Snowy (named after Tintin’s dog) is 5 days old and Sweetie (who is too sweet for words) is 2 days old.

The Joeyosaurus with Sweetie

We were beginning to think that they boys weren’t going to be able to partake in calf club at school this year as the  usual lambs were nigh on impossible to find this season and were really expensive to buy.  Besides we didn’t want to keep them – just love them, teach them a couple of tricks, wean them, parade them about at school and hopefully win a ribbon and then give them back to the farmer who knows how do the real farming thing.

Tim the Helper with Snowy

The date for handing in the registration forms was looming and there wasn’t a lamb or animal in sight.  Some of the local schools have increasing numbers of “townies” attending and so it isn’t possible for all kids to participate and have opened the day up to domestic animals and pets.  A friend was telling me yesterday of a kid that took along a water snail – the kind that lives on the side of a gold fish tank!    Our school is still proudly rural and calves, lambs and goats are being lovingly raised by enthusiastic kids and weary parents all across the community as we speak.

Toast the Cat introducing herself to the new arrivals

As the close off date got closer and closer the boys were beginning to realise they were going to miss out, when a wonderful friend went out of her way to source some goats for us.  As word spread – it turned out it wasn’t just us she helped out and has managed to find homes for at least a couple of dozen!  That’s a couple of dozen pairs of happy kids matched up!!

"Goats? In our house? What is the world coming to?"

So these cute little additions have spent the afternoon being lavished with cuddles and settling into their new home in hay strewn chicken coop!  At this stage they are about the same size as the chickens!  I’m not entirely sure the chickens were that impressed with their new roommates but it’s warm in there and fully fenced!

Sweetie

Snowy

Spring must be well and truly in the air, as these aren’t the only imminent arrivals at our place.  Brandy the escape artist chicken has settled down just outside the coop with a clutch of about 15 eggs which should hatch in about two and a half weeks.  It’s not the first time she has tried to have a secret uneaten family, but so far they only offspring she has managed to raise is a young chap that unfortunately needs to “fly the coop.”  He’s a bit of a handful for his family – challenging his father’s authority and terrorising his poor aunts – luckily mum is off keeping the eggs warm or who knows what would happen!

Baby Tomatoes

I also have babies in the greenhouse with tomatoes, melons and Sweet Williams pushing through the soil.  It’s not a 100% strike rate yet – but it’s still early days and still very exciting.  I must get onto planting the next round of seeds so everyone is at the optimum conditions when they go into the patch on that magic Labour weekend in at the end of October.

Come again soon – spring is in the air and life is good.

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

Not a bad haul for August – despite the snow

Bowl of winter tomatoes

In this bowl is a whole 26 grams of sweet summer goodness and I couldn’t be more excited.  These seven red orbs are more than just tomatoes – they are like a promise of what is to come.  They are summer encapsulated into 4 grams of juiciness.

This means more today than at any other time in the whole of winter.  I have been going on for months about how it’s not winter it’s just a wet autumn in fancy dress; it is too mild in temperature; I haven’t lit the fire or used any form of heating in weeks, blah blah blah…

Until this week.

It is cold.  Very cold.  We had snow on Monday!  We don’t get snow here.  I use the term “snow” loosely.  There were a dozen or so flakes falling amongst the rain drops.  They were all white and floaty while the rain was coming in at an angle and fast.  But we mostly got hail.

This is no good for building snowmen!

Even Auckland city had snow and that hasn’t happened since 1939! It brought them the coldest day on record of a “shocking” daytime low of 8.2oC.  Although those caught in the snow further south actually had enough to make snowmen and many were made.  Many towns and cities are still struggling with the weather today, but not us – there is a nip in the air but the sun is shining brightly.

Some schools and business have been closed and there is concern for the lambs and calves entering the world in the midst of it all and for those still living in earthquake damaged homes in Christchurch – but the storm was such an unusual occurrence it was mostly met with awe and delight which was best captured in a video posted online which you can see here.

Then a strange thing happened – the population was overtaken with a condition called “snow envy” were towns were pitted against each other as to who had the best snow.  It was even raised that Auckland didn’t even have snow but a substance called graupel.  I’d never heard of it.  Apparently it’s “Very similar to snow to the naked eye but more like soft hail. It is little round soft balls of ice which can bounce, but it can also float in the wind as it’s not as heavy as hail. It melts quicker than hail and is softer. Doesn’t have that snowflake shape”. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/5456087/Snow-The-Cold-Facts)  I’m sure the snow I had was proper snow – all 16 flakes!

By this time next week life will return to normal and one day people will be telling their grandchildren “I remember when it snowed in Auckland back in ’11”.  Meanwhile the cold will slip away and winter will be replaced by spring, the days will lengthen and the earth will warm up and seeds will be planted with such hope that this will be the best summer ever for veggies.

Bit of a change from a week ago - where's my woolly jumper?

Come again soon – the seeds are due to rise out of the seed raising mix any day now.

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

Today is a monumentally exciting day!

It’s the first round of seed planting for the season.

A good sign it's seed sowing time.

This will be the 4th season I have put a seed into soil and anxiously awaited the results.  I am hoping that this year will be the best year, as now I have something very valuable that I didn’t have when I first started out: “The benefit of hindsight” and all the experience and wisdom that brings.

I think it is fair to say in the early days I was a bit naïve.  One of my biggest problems of the past was over planting.  Just because the lettuce seed packet has 1000 seeds in it doesn’t mean they should all be planted at once by sprinkling liberally over a small space.

This brings me nicely to my next learner error:  spacing.  Needless to say 1000 lettuce plants wedged in tightly into a confined space quickly lead to a mushy slimy mess which was taken full advantage of by marauding slugs and snails.

Another sign its the right time to sow seed.

I also had difficulties in looking at a small seed and thinking “how big could it possibly grow?” and plant things way too close.  Being a visual person I like to see things in action before attempting as this brings, for me, the best understanding.  Looking at words on a page is all good and well but “just how big is that?”  A quick search on You Tube generally answers that one, and being “down under” here in New Zealand, northern hemisphere crops are at the height of their potential as I plant my seeds so I can get the premature benefit of someone else’s hindsight.

Another aspect of the garden to be modified is: how much.  I usually plant extra seeds, just in case germination fails and I don’t have to start again, but then I am left with extra plants that in the past I have just popped in the garden with the rest because I hate waste.  Last year I found 7 zucchini for a family of 4 where the kids hate zucchini and can spot it a mile off is about 6 zucchini too many!

There is enough here for everyone!

This year I am helping out friends, by planting seeds for their gardens, it’s not much more of an effort raising extras, but to be a blessing when times are tight is a good thing.  The dilemma this raises is – do I rely on my extras planted in case of non-germination for these “gifts”, or do I plant more seeds with their own extras?  I would hate to let people down, but I could end up with so many spare plants I could open a nursery!  I so hate waste.

This time I am being more sensible with my timings.  The year I first got a cheap plastic greenhouse I planted EVERTHING 8 weeks before it was due in the ground – even carrots!  I have since learnt – this is a dumb idea.  Some things do better for being started in the ground – peas, beans, carrots, corn to name a few.  Some things don’t need an 8 week head start – and just end up weak and leggy and no good for prolific cropping.

Some things do benefit from an early start.  Tomatoes can grow tall so they can be planted deep, peppers have to be the slowest thing in the garden and need all the help they can get.  Other crops like melons that need a long hot season also get a bit of a hand up so they can start pumping out the goods and soon as possible before it goes all cold on them leaving us empty handed at the end of the season.

Come again soon – see how the seeds are doing – this is just the start of great things to come!

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

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