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 )
If some of my plants were animals I would have been reported to the SPCA! They are sorely neglected and are only just noticeable in among a thriving crop of weeds. But it’s not my fault – really…
Asparagus, Globe Artichoke and Rhubarb all have something in common in my garden. Apart from the obvious in that they are a permanent feature and come back year after year and each time they show up I am always so excited to see them, especially as they are the first crops of the season. But then they slow down and eventually stop producing as the weather heats up and my attention towards them suffers the same fate and by the middle of summer it is safe to say they are completely and utterly ignored.
This lack of due care and attention is only part of the problem but by reversing this seasonal trend of turning a blind eye, won’t actually solve the problem, so I can ease my conscious ever so slightly, however the major problem still requires my input so this still causes me feelings of guilt and gardening inadequacies.
You see the biggest part of this problem is the dirt! We live in what was once a swamp and so the soil, while incredibly fertile has a high clay content. When it’s wet it is wet – it can hold 20 times its weight in water, which is fantastic for reducing the daily chore of watering in the height of summer. Just water once a week and water deep – job done! But when it’s dry it is like concrete!
There is a bit of a difference between the artichoke, asparagus and rhubarb beds and all the other 20 odd raised beds in my garden, in that the other beds are regularly dug over and have compost added, the roots of the short lived crops break up the soil and the weed population is dramatically reduced by the continual action, so I have soil in most of my beds that is really starting to be ideal growing conditions! The artichoke, asparagus and rhubarb beds are never empty, they don’t get turned over, occasionally compost is added to the top, providing a lovely environment for weeds to grow strong and healthy. In the winter the soil is too wet to weed as the mud sticks to the roots like they have been super glued and in the summer is way too hard to pull them out as using a pick axe may destroy the roots of the good plants! As a result the soil becomes more and more compacted with the most stubborn weeds known to man!
In the early winter when I chop down the yellow fronds of the asparagus I have successfully mulched with newspaper to keep the winter weeds away, but once the tender spears start popping up it becomes tricky to maintain the weed free position as the soil hasn’t softened up any and so the problem remains! Laying newspaper around the other two plants is logistically tricky but without making too many excuses I just haven’t tried it.
So here is my dilemma, how do I keep the weeds at bay all year round, without compromising the health and wellbeing of my asparagus, rhubarb and artichoke? Hmm – I need to think about this one…
Come again soon – we have just had the craziest adventure that wouldn’t have happened if we lived the city!
Sarah the Gardener : o )
I have bought myself a shiny new notebook. I love new books. As the blank pages call out to me I always vow and declare I will use my very best handwriting and I won’t dog-ear the pages! By the end – if it doesn’t get abandoned along the way, it’s usually in such a state, barely recognisable from the pristine condition it was when it came into my possession. But this one was chosen specifically for its ability to absorb a little dirt and become “rustic” as is fulfils its duty as my gardening note book, destined to live in the shed.
No longer will there be notes scribbled on seed packets or grubby scraps of paper containing vital information turned into paper mache within the pockets of the freshly laundered gardening apparel, or even worse – ideas tucked into the leaking sieve of my head with full intentions of being remembered for future reference, only to be completely forgotten forever moments later. This way if I have anything remotely interesting to record I shall be able to briefly stop what I am doing and pop into the shed – without even taking my boots and gloves off, jot it down and then get back to it with the minimum on disruption to the gardening experience!
So I shall use this wee book in an experimental way to see if this year it actually adds any value. I am going to record the details of each crop in an alphabetical way instead of the traditional chronological way of a diary. For example, if I have something to say about carrots ( although I don’t imagine there will be much to say about carrots as they are actually quite boring) then I will turn to the C section and flick across to the carrot page and add it to the wealth of information I would have already placed there.
Now don’t get me wrong, a gardening diary is also very useful for things like when seeds were sown and when things should be harvested, and what the weather was like etc, but for that random pieces of wisdom (generally gained through a bad experience, although sometimes coming about through a pleasant surprize) that isn’t really specifically related to any particular date but just needs to recorded somewhere to prevent it’s unfortunate re-occurrence, then I think my wee note book will become a precious possession when it comes to understanding the quirks and nuances of gardening in my veggie patch.
While general information can – and will – be gleaned from the many, many gardening books and magazines I have collected, I hope my notebook will be my voice of wisdom and reason in the seasons to come!
Come again soon – as I fill in the notebook with this seasons “don’t ever do again” and “wonder what I did so I can repeat it” I’ll keep you posted.
Sarah the Gardener : o )
It’s February and I’ve just been out and weeded and turned over soil for a new row of peas – all before breakfast. Normally this foolhardy early morning burst of energy in February is deemed sensible as at this time of year it would be far too hot to garden in the midday heat. But not this year. And definitely not today. I was out there this morning because I was frustrated. This summer (if you can call it that) has been cold, wet, windy and generally not living up to the expectations of the long hot dry summer holidays I remember from my childhood.
I haven’t written much about the garden lately, because it would just be a giant moan about how awful it has been.
But I have pulled myself together, and with the kids back at school I can actually hear the thoughts in my head, and they are telling me, gardening is never perfect and there is always next year. And so with this in mind I am going to shame- faced-idly (is that even a word? – is now) share the horrors of my summer garden, and what went wrong, and the stuff that defied the odds and actually went well.
One of the upsides of a crappy summer is there is a whole lot of learning to do. So much more of a challenge than a perfect summer where all good things go perfectly! Although I have to say, my first veggie patch about four summers ago went really well, I give it full credit to me still being here doing it now as each summer since has not been without its challenges, culminating in this one which has by far been the yuckiest!
I am a person who likes order and things looking nice, which to the people who know me go “Really?” But it’s true, I like my veggies in rows and the lawns mowed and the compost in bins not piles and my garden spaces orderly. Towards the end of summer when the plants are past their best and there are rogue plant pots and watering cans left where they lay, and weeds in the too hot greenhouse, I tend to give up and walk away for the season, leaving a mountain of work to do in the spring to get ready again. Well this year I declare publically that THIS YEAR WILL BE DIFFERENT!
I have started down this road already, by clearing out my shed. My shed is actually new and shouldn’t need clearing out, but in the hurly burly of spring I got into the dreadful habit of just lobbing stuff in there to “sort out later!”
Which is an awful thing to do with my lovely shed that I acquired through hard work, hard saving and the winnings from a blogging gardening competition last year. It’s my dream shed and I finally have it exactly how I want it, and so it is from here that I will be spending my time in serious pontification – planning my next big garden.
Come again soon – I shall endeavour to bring you up to speed as quickly and possible and then regale you with all the exciting stuff to come as it happens!
Sarah the Gardener : o )
PS: We have some more tiny baby chickens – hatched yesterday.