There is nothing like having the imminent arrival of an important guest to shake away apathy and cause a frenzy of activity. Lately I have been a bit slack on the gardening front. I seem to have wholeheartedly embraced the wind down towards winter and wound right down. I figured that as it cools down then the weeds will slow down and I’ll be able to get to them when I feel like it.
Besides most of the beds don’t have any crops that need a new home, I mean it’s not like spring when you have a greenhouse bulging with greenery that desperately needs to go in the ground so you dig and weed and weed and dig every hour of light God sends and if things are really bad then you pop on one of those hat torches and keep going in the dark.
The expression “It’s a jungle out there” was probably the best way to describe the state I had allowed the garden to get into. I do it every year – I take my crops and without so much as a thank you , I walk away with the intention of getting on to it later, knowing full well that it’s not going to happen and I’ll be the one in the dark, in the spring, digging and weeding with a torch strapped to my head!
So I got news a couple of days ago to expect a very important visitor, and if it was Hubby the Un-Gardener who had the visitor, then he would just sweep the office, stack his papers nicely and put on the fresh coffee. For me the stakes are higher, I would be ashamed if I let anyone see the garden in the state I let it get into. I need to work hard. I need to enlist help to get it done on time. Why is my garden so big?
I’ve been digging and weeding, weeding and digging for days! Fortunately a well prepared soil lovingly tended in the spring has prevented all but the most stubborn weeds from taking up residence. The worst culprit is the Dock with its nasty taproot. I may even go so far as to say it is my gardening nemesis.
I’m nearly there, with about a quarter of the garden left to do. Not only am I urged on by completely eliminating the shame factor when my very important visitor shows up, but a thought popped into my head while I was toiling away: “Sarah the Gardener, if you get all this done now, it will be easy to stay on top of over winter and then you will have more spare time for exciting projects!” I like that thought, so I will push on and try my hardest to have a weed free garden by the end of the week. Wish me luck.
Come again soon – I have a whole load of gardening gems floating around in my head!
Sarah the Gardener : o )
At the beginning of summer I promised myself I would make two dishes before the end of summer. A Nicoise Salad with fresh beans from the garden. I had always wanted to make this dish but summer always slipped by so fast that it never happened. This year I finally managed it, although it was a close call – in the latter days of February. But it was still very delicious, with most of the ingredients coming from the garden. I don’t know why I took so long to make it – maybe because we don’t really like beans all that much!
But that isn’t the dish I wanted to talk about. Today I made the most incredible dish. I’m not sure what delayed me, maybe it was I was waiting for that perfect summer day that never happened, or I was just procrastinating. The first reason shows me in a better light! The dish in question has a fancy name “Insalata Caprese Salad” but I didn’t know that until just now when I Googled it, because a Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Salad, just sounded too ordinary to do it justice. Although its simplicity is its secret. And it is so good!
Oh why did I wait so long – this is a dish that deserves to be eaten outside on a hot summer evening with a good bottle of something Italian, not inside on a wet, miserable autumn day! Well I am just glad I got round to making it, driven by the fact that the last of the tomatoes are clinging to shrivelled plants, with the first hint of blight spotted on a bush in a damp corner. As far as the tomatoes go – it was a case of now or never, I don’t even know what varieties I used as the labels had long since worn away, but they were red, ripe and juicy!
Another key ingredient – the basil had got lost in the herb garden – over run by the parsley that had gone to seed and the nasturtiums (mental note: plant them away from other things next year – they are a bossy plant!) Once I found them I realised that like the tomatoes – they too were on their last legs and were in full flower. I really need to get in there and harvest and process them before it is all over and I missed the boat!
The last ingredient was something I didn’t grow – but I made, and I’m so proud of myself. I made the mozzarella. Admittedly I had to make two attempts because yesterday it all went mushy at the last stage instead of going stretchy! Having said that it is actually really easy when you follow the instructions (check here to see how) and I ended up with all these little balls of white cheesy goodness. (I’ve kept some back to use on a pizza or cheese on toast – yum!)
Then I sliced everything up and laid them out decoratively on a plate, drizzled with olive oil and did-dah – I did the impossible, I turned back time and for a few minutes it was summer again!
Come again soon – I have a crazy plan – I hope it works.
Sarah the Gardener : o )
More often than not when I wake up in the mornings it is dark. It couldn’t possibly be because I’ve been waking up earlier because I’m just not that kind of girl, which can be verified by the fact I have no idea if it’s getting colder outside on these darker mornings as I like to stay tucked up in bed until the last possible moment! But eventually I have to drag myself out from under the covers and face the day.
Today is a Saturday, which is fantastic. There aren’t many pressing responsibilities on a Saturday – other than making sure the kids get their basic needs met – you know: food and water, the rest is up to them. Today I can hang out in the garden guilt free! But what to do with this free time?
I have lists everywhere of things to do in the garden, some big projects and some really small, but most of the time you have to go on instinct and leave the projects to the spare time in your spare time! So as I stood in the garden looking about I could see immediately what needed my attention. The Corn. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It really did need that extra week propped back up after being blown down by the storm.
In the beginning I had such a terrible job getting it started, I think I had to re-sow three times and had to go out and get more seed. In the end I sowed the seed on the same day that the farmer next door had planted out his maize and it worked really well for both of us. But in my wee gardening book I will be writing down under the corn heading: despite corn preferring to be planted out directly, I prefer not to have to re-sow again and again. So I need to start off indoors. I also need to devise a wind break thingy to help them stand up to the average weather bomb that will ultimately be thrown our way midsummer!
The corn I harvested was great – all the kernels were full, plump and juicy. So 30 delicious, perfect looking cobs have been chucked in the freezer for that yellow sunshine taste in the middle of winter. There were a couple of manky ones – the kind where there are only half a dozen kernels. In the past these have made up the majority of the crop, and so I would determinedly nibble each of the malformed cobs – I went to the effort of growing these stupid things – then damn it, I’m going to eat them! This season there were so many “normal” ones that I happily threw the manky ones to the chickens, who gratefully gobbled them up. So now we shall have homemade corn flavoured eggs for breakfast.
I reckon based on today’s supermarket prices for sweet corn ($0.75 each) I have saved the family the princely sum of $30 dollars! (Included in this calculation is the ones we have already eaten – I’m bad with maths but not that bad!) With the added benefit of low food miles, I know where it has come from and I know what hasn’t been sprayed on it!
But then I had to turn to chopping down the stalks and clearing out the bed, removing all trace of a crop that has been such a prominent feature in our landscape all summer. The garden just looks so barren without its height and lush presence.
Come again soon – the end of summer clear out is only just beginning… sigh…
Sarah the Gardener : o )
This was the worst summer ever! I’m surprized I managed to get any crops at all. I also feel all I did all summer was moan about the weather. But I feel vindicated now. All the news reports are coming in with exactly just how awful it really was. A quick Google search reveals headings such as:
“Sunless: A summer in name only”
“Who stuffed up summer?”
“Is this the worst summer weather you’ve ever experienced?”
“Summer 2012 – Land of the long grey cloud?”
“Summer downpours to continue” and
“More dreary weather marks end of summer”
So I didn’t imagine it. My garden season was bad because the weather was bad. The experts appear to be blaming it on La Nina who just bought buckets and buckets of rain and cloudy days to our summer holiday season and everyone seems to agree – this was a particularly bad summer which is great news because my credibility as a gardener remains intact – the poor yield wasn’t my fault!
And autumn isn’t shaping up to be much better – we are in the middle of a Weather Bomb! So much for a quiet weekend pottering about in the remains of my garden, a fast moving storm with fast wind (in excess of 120k/h) and lots of rain and lots of damage. Throughout the country roofs have been torn off, trees uprooted and the power is out to many homes.
So I’m tucked up inside praying my greenhouse stays standing and that we get off lightly. I phoned the insurance company to see if my greenhouse was covered and they said probably not, because it’s not a content and not really a building, and they don’t think they could insure it because its construction of polycarbonate panels and aluminium framing makes it too flimsy, and even if they could insure it – they wouldn’t do it on the day before a big storm. But it’s worth a thousand hard saved for dollars! That kind of money doesn’t come easily. It’s not like a greenhouse is a disposable item – easily replaced. So I go back to praying that my greenhouse won’t blow away.
But the thought that has kept me sane is “there is always next season” and it runs through my head over and over. And just to confirm that a gardener’s hope always rests in the next season there are three small seed trays with the beginnings of the best winter crop ever, hiding from the elements in the safety of the shed.
Come again soon – maybe I’ll be able to actually share about gardening for a change!
Sarah the Gardener : o )
With only four days of summer left the sun decided to show his face – hopefully as a result of guilt and shame for his lack of attendance during the last three months. Yesterday was a wonderful day, all hot and blue skies and cicadas cicading and a day where the garden just beckons “come and play with me!” And that was exactly what I did.
With an ever increasing list of projects in my head, I took one look at the garden and knew exactly where to start: mow the grass. I feel like I have spent so much time this summer mowing the grass or waiting for it to dry out so I can mow it. Normally at this time of year it is a shadow of its former spring self – all brown and dried with dusty patches where I have walked over it too much on my way to get tomatoes or herbs. It barely needs mowing at all! This year it is still lush and long and full of vigour that is reminiscent of the early days of spring.
With all the long grass everywhere the patch just seems overwhelming – like a big weedy overgrown mess! A quick-ish blat about with the lawn mower restores a sense of order and reduces the enormous amount of work originally perceived to the more manageable reality of the situation.
Although this mowing wasn’t without its ups and downs. Our mower is a little trooper. It is often asked to do chores that its wee budget body was not designed for. It probably sits in the shed and daydreams about a small bit of grass out the back of a town house in the city! But it is our little reliable rural mower and despite having numerous components fall off, he still pushes on through and gets the job done. I don’t know what all those bits were for because he still works perfectly well?!
But after shedding the most recent detritus, Hubby the Un-Gardener decided to “take a look.” Although he’s not all that mechanically minded, he has a go, and pretty much always sorts things out. He once took the gear box of the ride on mower apart and fixed it by taking photos with his iPhone every step of the way, googling the problem when he found it and then reassembled it by looking at the photos in reverse order. He’s very resourceful!
So I hauled out the freshly made over mower only to find it wasn’t working very well at all, so Hubby the Un-Gardener suggested I use the ride on mower as the beds had been designed to be far enough apart for it to fit. But after a couple of sweeps I stopped it and got off. I hated it. It was too clumsy. I wanted my old battered mower. I understand that mower, I know just how far I need to go around the trailing pumpkins without shaving them off, it fits underneath the leaning fennel that has gone to seed, it gets close to the beds and I like that mower.
So Hubby the Un-Gardener sacrificed his Sunday afternoon in the sun to fix the old mower, and soon we were chugging up and down between the beds like old times – until we ran out of petrol…
Come again soon – with only a handful of days of summer left I intend to get the most out of them.
Sarah the Gardener : o )
When talking about gardening, thoughts of digging, nurturing tiny seedlings, weeding and getting dirt under the nails, watering and harvesting the fruits of your labours spring to mind. But there is one step on from this one that is just as labour intensive, but equally as rewarding. That is processing the produce. The other day I went to check on the orchard only to find the peaches and damson plums were ready. They are relatively young trees, so the yield wasn’t massive (although next year will probably be) but they have come ripe together – alongside a large harvest of elderberries.
On top of this, the corn is coming ready so that’s approximately 60 ears that need attention, I have a huge pile of onions from my poor crop that are too small to be of practical use in cooking and so the only answer is to pickle them – so they are waiting in the shed, where I left them to dry out. The kale and the rainbow beet have gone completely nuts and I should harvest some and freeze for winter use. So there is nothing else for it – I have to make jams and sauces, pickles and wines, blanching and processing and do all manner of kitchen gardening jobs.
But I need to fit this around doing the “real” gardening. The rain has been such an ever present feature in the garden this summer which has its up sides and it’s down sides. On the up – I haven’t had to water much, on the down, the lawns and the weeds have run rampant but because of the wet conditions it is neither practical or desirable to get out there and sort them out and worst of all: the overall yields are down on previous years.
I also need to sow seeds for the winter crops – or we’ll never get any broccoli. Then there are the maintenance jobs. The wind last night was so strong it blew over my trellis set up for my cucumbers and luffas. This really needs to be fixed because if I don’t my luffas won’t grow straight and who wants crooked luffas? But it is still wet and yucky outside and while an important task, not one I’m looking forward to. Maybe I’ll get Hubby the Un-Gardener to help so I won’t be the only one getting wet!
The dilemma is what to do first – kitchen gardening or garden gardening? I could just shove the fruit into the freezer for the minute and do the jam making on a cold autumn evening and warm the house while doing it, instead of overheating an already humid home, making it unbearable for all!
Having said that autumn starts next week, so then we can kiss goodbye to an awful summer and settle down to a season or two when you expect the weather to be bad and daydream about that perfect summer that will be knocking on our doors again before we know it. I’m not normally such a moany gardener, I’m normally happy and excited, but there is only so much rain one can take before spirits are completely dampened!
On a different but very sad note – Smoochy Pooch (what the kids ended up calling the baby chicken) passed away and we held a wee funeral yesterday. She was only with us a short time but made a huge impression on us all. Funny the ways such a small wee thing can do that!
Come again soon – I need to do some kind of gardening – any kind of gardening… I just need the rain to stop!
Sarah the Gardener : o )
This is supposed to be all about vegetables in my veggie garden, with exciting stories about broccoli and riveting yarns about leeks and tantalising tales about my tomatoes. But this is being hijacked by animals. I’m giving the impression I am a savvy rural type with an extensive menagerie. I need to clear things up; I am not a savvy rural type. I have some well-worn red band gumboots that are so well worn they have sprung a leak, but that is about as far as it goes. I’m a gardener not a farmer. Sarah the Gardener – Not Sarah the Farmer!
I was going to tell a tale of woe about my broccoli – but it’s really not that interesting. In the last season I thought I’d planted heaps of the stuff, but it turned out to be cauliflower! I had heaps of cauliflower – all ready at the same time! We don’t eat that much cauliflower. I was aiming for enough to fit into our dietary requirements and was happy with that. But I wasn’t happy with hideous amounts – we were never going to eat them all, so I made heaps of piccalilli with the zucchini that was also going mad.
The problem of the cauliflower was solved, but not the broccoli; we still didn’t have any – so this season I planted more only to have them turn into more cauliflowers. So fed up with the whole situation I ignored the cauliflower row in disgust only to discover at the point of flowering the seedlings had somehow got mixed up and so there was broccoli, only I missed them! I planted more, but the seeds weren’t all that fresh – don’t let broccoli seeds get too old because the germination rate is really poor. So the single surviving, guaranteed broccoli seedling was planted with tender loving care and was doing well, only to be perfectly ready while I was out of town. On my return I was disappointed to find lovely yellow flowers. Missed it again. I can’t remember the last time I ate fresh broccoli. Maybe next season. And there ends my rather boring tale of my incompetence with broccoli.
However things got a little interesting again today with the animals – a lot more interesting than going on about broccoli and definitely a whole lot cuter than broccoli. Tim the Helper went out to feed the chickens before school and came inside with a garbled tale of a half dead chick in the coop, but it wasn’t one of the babies. This made no sense what so ever, so I went out with my pyjamas tucked into my leaky red band gumboots to find out what was going on.
And sure enough and against all odds another chick had hatched – over a week after its siblings. But its siblings were its down fall – first thing in the morning they were off out to play in the dirt and Mum had no choice but to supervise the adventurous chicks and leave the newly hatched baby in the nest. By the time I got to it, it was so cold and despite only being at most twenty minutes out of the egg, I don’t think it would have lasted much longer. The heart beat felt quite strong and so this little fella was definitely a fighter, so I warmed him up (I keep referring to him as a boy which is strange because I’d rather he was a she – will try the feather sexing thing tomorrow as they are still too small to tell). The feathers dried out and turned fluffy and he has been my constant companion all day. I even took him to a meeting because if I left him at home Toast the Cat may have eaten him.
I tried to take him to his Mum, but she wasn’t interested and just dooked him on the head. So for the next few weeks I’ll be Sarah the Chicken Mum. The first challenge will be to get the little fella through the night. He’s still really wobbly on his feet, but I’ve made a nest in a shoe box with a hot water bottle, and old towel and a teddy bear substitute broody chicken. So far so good.
Come again soon – hopefully I will get a break from all the animals and get some gardening done!
Sarah the Gardener : o )
I like to think I’m a bit of an adventurous spirit and live by the philosophy of “try everything once and the fun things twice” hence we will not be growing sugar beet again – great idea in theory, but if you miss the short window of opportunity between too small to harvest and too late to harvest, they are very bitter and really yucky!
So unless it was a really dramatic reaction of pure disgust from the family (kid reactions to zucchini is the exception – they can hate them all they like – I think they are yummy, so it’s: “I went to the effort of growing them so you WILL go to the effort of eating them!”), then the seeds in my collection are the ones I’ll grow. This isn’t generally a problem as who doesn’t like to nibble on fresh peas while working in the garden, or making a fresh salad out of sun warm tomatoes. Freshly dug potatoes on Christmas morning are almost compulsory and being able to answer a hungry kid with “go pull up a carrot” is brilliant.
So most of the things in my garden are in there because they are loved and appreciated and have a special place in our diets. Except one group. Beans.
I don’t know what is wrong with me – why do I keep growing them? I have even have a whole bed dedicated to beans! We don’t actually like beans all that much. Last years are still in the freezer, beside the bag of this year’s beans that is steadily filling up. I started to ignore them thinking neglect would reduce the crop, but have started giving them away to those who would appreciate them.
Our diet is not completely devoid of beans and the yellow butter beans aren’t that bad, but why did I plant Scarlet Runners? I hate the feel of the bean pod is all rough and coarse and then when you eat them they are all stringy- bleuck! I only had the seed packet because I grew a bean pole tee-pee house for the kids to play in – but they didn’t. Now we have Scarlet Runners self-seeding all over the place in some kind of bean taunt – nah nah nan nah nah!
We also eat a lot of tinned beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans, baked beans, so this year I decided to see what I could do in the garden, so I bought a packet of dried four bean mix from the supermarket and popped them in the ground, so I have growing in my garden kidney beans, pinto beans, haricot beans and pink beans! I’ve never actually cooked with dried beans before so I think the growing bit is going to be the easy bit as I understand you can make people sick if you don’t cook dried beans properly. I think I’ll experiment on Hubby the Un-Gardener!
I was wondering where I get this habitual nature from, and then I spent some time with my Dad who is such a creature of habit that everyone was joking that they could predict what he would choose from a menu at a restaurant none of us had been to before! – So that is where I get it – I am my father’s daughter and I will have to fight my genetic makeup so I don’t end up planting Scarlet Runner beans in my garden ever again!
Come again soon – You know another veggie I have been having trouble with is broccoli – but I only have myself to blame.
Sarah the Gardener : o )
When my friend asked me if we had any spare chickens I was a little premature in assuring her that we had the broody chicken for the job. So for the last three weeks we have all been waiting patiently for the large pile of eggs to turn into enough chickens to fill their newly acquired coop, top up our flock a little and in complete wishful thinking, defy the odds and be all girls!
It is only now that the phrase ”don’t count your chickens before they hatch” has dawned on me with its full and complete meaning: Don’t actually count your chickens before they actually hatch! This now makes perfect sense!
So here we are with three very cute chicks, but they still can’t be counted on to be useful – not just yet. There were four, but one didn’t make it, and now we have to wait a little longer to see if there are any boys in the trio. So in fact you shouldn’t count your chickens after they have hatched either!
This is a bit of a dilemma. What do I do about my friend – she was expected enough chickens to supply her family fresh eggs and seeing how many eggs were in the nest, this didn’t seem out of the realms of possibility. I could just give her the three chicks and say “here you go – good luck” – but I’m too nice for that – what if they are all boys?
Knowing our chickens I should have expected this situation. In the four times we have had chickens covertly laying a multitude of eggs in secret places we have had woefully inadequate results. First attempt – one girl; second attempt – one boy, third attempt – two girls and a boy and this time – who knows!
We a hoping desperately for a freak of nature in that there are no boys this time, as we have still have enough of a hint of city-slicker-shine on to do anything other than offer unwanted roosters for sale for free on the internet – provided the buyer doesn’t tell us their plans. Besides catching roosters to suit an appointed time is physically impossible!
Maybe we shouldn’t allow broody chickens to go anywhere near eggs and after the last run around by a rooster, that was our plan but our sneaky chickens worked together to take shameful advantage of a timid child. They didn’t need to even try and hid the eggs as the attempt to raise a family was done in a brazen fashion in the nesting box!
We gave Tim the Helper the chore of feeding the chickens, giving them fresh water and collecting the eggs. But he always came back saying there were no eggs, but we found out later it was more a case of a chicken laying an egg at the time would peck at him if he tried to look for eggs, so he decided it would be best to leave well enough alone. So after all the chickens had laid a descent number of eggs in the “safe” nesting box, Toffee the Chicken got down to the business of sitting.
So here we are with three chicks, not nearly enough, with every possibility that they may be no use at all.
But they are cute and fluffy and make you want to sigh in a soppy way.
Come again soon – the beans have become a bit of a burden.
Sarah the Gardener : o )
I may have mentioned earlier, we have goats, I will have also mentioned we live in what was once a swamp. It is also common knowledge that we have young boys. Well last night these three factors came together in the most bewildering of events.
After a long extended weekend, it came down to doing the last chore – moving the goats. Not a chore relished by either Hubby the Un-Gardener or myself as we can both testify to how much of a punch two D sized batteries can whallop when hooked up to an electric fence.
So the most gorgeous sunset in ages became the back drop for the drama about to unfold. With mozzies nipping at our ankles we climbed the gate into the goat paddock to find them missing! We could hear them but they were nowhere to be seen.
This is where the swamp enters the story, to keep the land “swamp-free” the local area is surrounded by an extensive network of drains and ditches, and the one out the front of our place is exceptionally deep.
It’s is only through the blessing of a break in the crappy summer weather that the water level was only ankle deep because at the bottom of the drain Sweetie the Goat was down there, crying out for help. Snowy the Goat was on the wrong side of the wooden fence, which was supposed to be the second line of defence after the electric fence, pacing back and forth along the narrow edge of the drain, full of concern for her friend.
At this point the contribution to this story by the third party is reluctantly admitted. The boys had been playing hide and seek with friends, and despite having three acres in which to hide, they chose the goat paddock. Having experienced the zap of the fence before, in the wisdom of a child, they decided to switch off the fence to prevent a shock that would interfere with the fun being had! Needless to say they never switched it back on again or we wouldn’t have ended up with the conundrum before us: how to get a goat out of the drain.
Hubby the Un-Gardener raced off to get the ladder and I went off in search of a rope. Putting things back in their proper place isn’t one of our strong points but we are working on it. So while I was doing a frenzied search for rope, Hubby the Un-Gardener had shimmied down the ladder and rescued Sweetie the Goat – fireman style, over his shoulder and so when I got there (without rope) he was standing at the top edge of the drain, with the goat, looking as calm as can be – and I missed it! I missed all the heroic action – drats!
So now the goats are safe and sound eating fresh grass within the confines of the electric fence, the kids have been suitably chastised and we are off to buy goat proof wire fencing to make the wooden fence impenetrable.
Oh the joys of country living!
Come again soon – not to be out done by the goats – the chickens have a tale to tell. And Hubby the Un-gardener wants to get a cow?! I don’t think we are ready. I don’t think we will ever be ready!
Sarah the Gardener : o )