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 )

It can’t be winter – it’s not cold enough

It is August.  It is supposed to be the coldest month of winter, when the snow comes and dumps heaps of white stuff on the mountains so thrill seekers can lob themselves down mountainsides at break neck speeds, barely controlling themselves.  (That used to be me in an earlier version of my life – never very good at skiing – but oh the thrill!).  Not that we get snow here – we are too northern, however a good sharp frost or two and a bracing southerly wind is normally the way of August.

The thing is – this year it’s just not happening.  I haven’t had to light the fire in days and even then it was to create the perception of cosy because it was grey and yucky outside – but not actually freezing cold.  Ok we have had a couple of “cold snaps” where there was a heavy dumping of snow in places that normally expect snow and even a smattering or two surprising places that normally don’t.  Schools were closed and people stayed home from work.  But it was all over as quick as it came and in a mere 3 days it was a distant memory.  We didn’t get snow, not even a frost – although there was a brief moment of extra-large hailstones! Business as usual.

A winter sky

This winter has been memorable for the wrong reasons as far as I am concerned.  The warmer than normal temperatures has its blessings; however what I am cross with is the rain.  We have had more rain than you can shake a stick at.  It had turned my veggie patch into a soggy boggy quagmire.  We haven’t mowed lawns in months for fear of the mower sinking into depths of the lawn only to be lost forever.  The kids don’t play in backyard for fear of drowning in it!

Not exactly a weather forecast to make me grab a woolly jumper

However this crazy mixed up August is about a week old and we have hardly had any rain at all.  So the ground has started to dry out.  Not completely – it was still a bit tacky but up to holding the weight of the mower.  This was a moment to be seized – who knew when an opportunity to mow would come again.  This in itself brought momentary indecision.  Do I mow around the house so it looks nice and cared for to those who come calling, or do I mow around the veggie garden to provide that illusion that all is under control in the patch.

Actually the decision was easy – the veggie patch.  I also took it as an opportunity to do some more sneaky land grabbing.  One extra sweep of the mower and who’s to know.  So with a surprisingly warm north wind blowing across my shoulder I got out there and gave the patch a cut.  It always makes it look so good. Out of breath and overheating in my un-necessary long johns I finished the last strip and went off to get Hubby the Un-Gardener to admire my work.

Freshly mown and looking good

I had only just started showing him my efforts when it came down.  Rain.  Huge heavy drops coming in thick and fast at a pretty sharp angle and it didn’t let up all day.   Needless to say the patch has returned to its standard waterlogged state, but it does look pretty for its new haircut.

Come again soon – do I pack away my winter woollies now or just wait – to be on the safe side.

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

I nearly killed Hubby the Un-Gardener

If you recall my last blog where I proudly presented little red goodies from my winter greenhouse, well since then things haven’t gone according to plan.

The tomatoes were great – oh so sweet and yum, Oh how I missed you, fresh tomato.  It doesn’t hurt that this is my all-time favourite tomato.  It’s a wee cherry style called Strawberry Tomato.  They were being sold in the local supermarket last winter for a really good price so I couldn’t resist a punnet of summer in the middle of winter. I don’t normally buy produce out of season (if I have to buy at all).  They were so nice I kept the seeds.

It was a bit of a gamble growing them:  I didn’t know if they were dwarf or would they need staking – they grow VERY tall; I didn’t know if they were determinant or in-determinant – they were the first to come ripe and the last to stop; I didn’t know if they would produce fruit at all or if they had some kind of GM sterile seed – it turned out mine were even yummier than the ones in the supermarket.

Strawberry Tomato - a bit spindly but loaded with tomatoes and flowers

So back to the outcome of the last blog – the tomato was so small I wasn’t going to cut it into quarters to share with everyone – but I’m not that mean that I wasn’t going to go halves with Hubby the Un-Gardener, same with the pepper, so I put them both aside to share secretly when the kids weren’t about.  Good news is the rest of the tomatoes seem to be ripening up thick and fast so maybe if the kids are lucky they may get a taste.

Soon there will be enough to share

Now the history with the pepper plant is:  It is of the Cornos variety and had been growing in the garden all summer as I had grown several from seed and when summer turned to autumn I couldn’t bear to just leave it to die so I dug it up, along with an eggplant and a plant that came from an envelope with the dubious handwritten label “good little chillies”.  I suspect they are jalapenos but I can’t be sure.  I re-potted them into buckets with holes in the bottom and moved them into the greenhouse.

Cornos Pepper with a split personality

In the garden, the Cornos peppers were long and mild with a slight kick and a really sweet flavour.  So it was with great excitement that the other night after the kids had gone to bed I halved the tomato and savoured the sweet juicy flavour, and then sliced open the pepper.  I should have been alerted to the fact something was amiss when the fruit only yielded 3 seeds and was smaller than the summer ones.  I gave half to Hubby the Un-Gardener who foolishly – yet trustingly popped the whole thing in and started to chew.

I was just about to nibble on my half, as I wanted this unseasonal summer experience to last.  I was stopped in my tracks by breathless gasps from across the room “IT’S HOT!!”  As Hubby the Un-Gardener bolted past me and into the kitchen where he proceeded to gulp down 2 litres of milk.  Still feeling internally scorched, he settled down to bed, wondering if it would be better to make himself throw it back up again to save his poor body from having to process it further.  While contemplating this great conundrum, he rubbed his eye, scratched his head and itched his butt.  Moments later he leaped out of bed like a rocket and jumped into the shower to sooth the burning sensation spreading all over him where ever he touched.

Too hot to handle

Watching all this frenzied activity, I looked at my half still in my hand and thought, “I’ll just pop this in the fridge” and we ate a tiny bit off it for tea tonight in a yummy pumpkin and bacon risotto.

Pumpkin and Bacon Rissotto

I have no idea why something that was mild in the summer could be so searingly hot grown in a greenhouse in the winter.  Oh well – lesson learnt for next time:  Caution winter peppers can be hot!

Come again soon – I’m about to reach for my seed packets and start the gardening journey all over again.

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

Splashes of red in a winter greenhouse – and a significant amount of rambling.

Normally winter is a barren and unproductive time in the garden, apart from the usual suspects that at this time of year are beginning to be regarded as boring – well the cauliflower is.  I planted heaps without checking that the freezer was already full of them and to compound the problem I somehow planted a row I what I hoped to be broccoli for them to develop a lovely white curd in the centre and not the lush green I was expecting – opps.  I’m giving them away now.

Just what I need - more cauliflower!

All the other winter crops are still developing so we haven’t had any cabbage, Brussels sprouts, carrots, beetroot or broad beans at all.  I think the soggy soil is holding them back.  We haven’t had rain for a while now and it is turning from a soggy winter with grey days to a cold winter with sunny days. The “experts” have stated the worst of winter is over and things should get better and by the end of August we should have a whole hour extra of sunshine. Hopefully the ground will dry out and the mud will disappear, which will be great news for the Joeyosaurus.  I sent him out the other evening to shut the greenhouse door and when he didn’t come back in I found him stuck up to his ankles in the mud crying.  Luckily I found him before he started to freak out.  The mud was holding on to his gumboots tighter than his little 5 year old legs could pull them up.  I haven’t asked him to do that job again.

Don't be fooled by that mud - it can EAT small children!

Now I am just rambling on about the weather.  I find that as a gardener it has become almost an obsession as to what the weather is up to and I’m sure I bore people with it, almost as much as when I talk about the garden.  People ask me how I’m doing and I invariably end up replying “great, but I wish the rain would stop so the garden will dry out.”  It’s up there with the madness that prompts people meeting at a doctor’s clinic to respond to the same question with “I’m fine” which clearly you aren’t or you wouldn’t be at doctor’s clinic.

Anyway, I started writing this blog to share with you the exciting treasures to be found in my greenhouse and I let my fingers take over the keyboard and all this other stuff came out…

So in my greenhouse I have a red tomato, a red pepper, an eggplant, a sunflower and 3 potato shoots – all of which are out of season and doing great!  What started as an experiment to “see if I could” has brought excitement to an otherwise impatient gardener.  But it won’t be long now, before I can start planting those spring seeds… how cool will it be to nibble fresh tomatoes while doing so!

winter tomatoes

winter peppers

winter eggplant

winter sunflower

winter potatoes

Come again soon – spring is around the corner – I can feel it in my bones!

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

You can have anything for dinner – so long as it includes something from the garden – even in the middle of winter!

I’ve spent quite a bit of time lately planning my summer garden, contemplating the kind of garden I would love it to be, drawing inspiration from other blogs and You Tube and sorting out my seeds.

I’ve been reminiscing over veggie gardens I’ve grown before and making a note of things I really need to remember for this year:  things like 7 Zucchini plants are 6 too many for a family of 4 especially when the kids don’t like them!  This led me to think of the gluts of the past that I have managed to hang on to – in the freezer, in jars and bottles.

Its July – we are sitting on mid-winter – although it doesn’t feel like it – it was warm enough last night not to need a fire and the spring flowers are all confused and have come out already.  June was apparently warmer than normal, as was May and April.  The only wintery thing has been the rain – only there has been so much more than normal,  I need it to dry out a little so I can mow the knee high lawns!

So here in mid-winter there isn’t a lot going on in the garden (except a little flooding), although I did find some broccoli and some cauliflower today, but the tea time catch cry:  “You can have anything for dinner – so long as it includes something from the garden” still applies.  Even takeaways aren’t immune and out comes the homemade sweet chilli sauce.

The problem is that as the months move on, the freezer is starting to freeze over and so is my brain – I am having trouble remembering what is in the freezer and opening it doesn’t help much as everything has become iced over.

I need to take action.  The freezer needs defrosting and I need to take a stocktake.

Aside from the ability to eat wonderful summer veggies that I grew myself – in the middle of winter, the need to get through everything is a bit of a necessity – I will need the space in the freezer and as many empty jars as I can lay my hands on for the summer bounty, which will be here before I know it.

In order to remember what is available when deciding what to have for dinner I have made up a wee blackboard to hang in my kitchen, so whoever is cooking dinner has no excuse to break the rules….

There is now no excuse not to use the veggies in the freezer!

Eat up family – I need the space.

Come again soon –   I need to come up with as many uses for cauliflower as possible – why did I grow so many?

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

I wasn’t intending on blogging again so soon….

….  But something exciting happened.  The postie delivered my seeds!  It’s like all my Christmas’s have come at once – even though I know what is in the package.  It’s all about what the package represents: Summer and all the sights, smells and flavours it has to offer.

Summer is hiding in these little packets!

As I sit here, wrapped up warm, watching the heavy rain come in horizontally and listening to the roar of the thunder, I can – for just a wee bit – lose myself in everything good about summer!

I was lucky enough to receive a gift certificate for $50 for my birthday last year (Thanks Dad), but as it was at the start of the growing season, I was already set up for my seeds for the year, and as it wasn’t the seed company running the competition, I couldn’t use them there either, so now as I prepare for a new season without restrictive brand constraints, I redeemed my voucher for a whole lot of goodies!

I try not to purchase hybrids where I can help it so I can collect seeds and re-sow the following year, and for evermore, for free, allowing me to spend my money on adding to the collection – not replenishing it.

So this parcel is exciting, because apart from the corn, which I haven’t tried to collect seeds from, everything in it is something I haven’t tried before.

I grabbed a couple of onions:  Borettana are really cute small flat ones that would look cool in a pickle jar; and a shallot seed – to try making sets for next year, because this year they were really expensive and the quality was terrible.

As much as I hate mixed packets – because you never know what you will get – especially with tomatoes, when you go to all that effort to find that you have grown 3 of the same kind and the one you really wanted to get is taunting you from the photo on the front of the packet.  But this time I took a chance and got Easter Egg Radish.  With such a short turnaround to eating time – I’m sure I’ll get to try them all.

The cucumber I chose promises to have a thinner skin and not need peeling, unlike the one I normally grow.

Judging by the zucchini that wouldn’t die this year (in the end it drowned in early June) I decided it must be ideal conditions for squash here so I thought I’d try spaghetti squash and see if I could get it past the kids where I failed with the zucchini!

I thought I might brighten up the patch with Rainbow Lights Beets and hope they taste nicer than the boiled to death silverbeet we had as kids!  Something that sounds like it illuminates the way for unicorns has to be good – surely?!

Despite the fact I have more varieties of tomatoes than a person really needs, I couldn’t help it when I saw a friend on you tube harvest hers –  I just had to have some.  Check it out here.

I decided to add to my melon collection, because you can never have too many in the heat of summer so I chose a green one and an orange one that promise to deliver a fine bounty!

I also want to make a “Tea” garden this year so I got some super sweet Stevia to try out, some sage and some lemon balm.  Well it’s a start!

And because I have previously ignored the flower garden, until I got the hang of the veggie patch, I grabbed a couple of flowers to try.  I know 2 flowers don’t make a flower garden, and they probably don’t go well together – one is Blue Globe Echinops because I loved the shape, and a dainty Campanula blue bell – which is a swap out because they didn’t have the one I wanted which was like a campanula – only more colourful.  So here begins my flower gardening attempts.

So now all I can do is put the packets aside with all the others and wait….

Come again soon – I can feel a crazy plan coming on.

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

Fruits of my Labour!

I haven’t been busy in the garden – in fact I have done nothing at all.  It is winter after all so I guess I’m allowed a few days off.  Although I have ordered my seeds for spring so they should arrive soon.

I just wanted to quickly share the good news.  I won the Blogging / Gardening challenge I had entered!  Yay.  I worked really hard for it – in the garden and at the keyboard, and drove my friends and family crazy chasing down their votes!

It is so refreshing to blog without the pressure.  If no one read this then, honestly it doesn’t matter at all.  And I don’t need to do it every day (unless I want to).  My friends can also breathe a sigh of relief.

I have added links on the side of the page to take you to the competition blogs if you are interested to see where I have come from.

But for now I shall wrap up warm and sit by the roaring fire and plan and dream up winter projects.

I just realised there is one month before I plant the tomato and pepper seeds in the greenhouse and there is so much I want and need to do before then!  Whoever said winter was a time to sit back and reflect didn’t live around here….  Here there is heaps that can be done.

Come again soon – I need to find my gloves, beanie, scarf and gumboots, I haven’t used them for a wee while.

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

Winter Spuds

It’s been three days since I last put my fingers to my keyboard and came up with a tale about my garden.  The gardening competition finished on Sunday and my last blog (number 112) was posted on their site.   The winners will be announced on the 4th July – wish me luck!

I must say it has been nice not to have to blog every day and I relaxed properly on Monday without thinking about the garden.  I don’t think I even went out there.  On Tuesday – thoughts entered my head.  Not just any thoughts – Gardening thoughts!  I tried to brush them away – I don’t need to do this anymore, but they kept coming back.  It was an awful day to garden – it was raining heavily and was freezing – doing anything garden related would be madness.

Then last night I had a dream that not only formulated a project (where I could stay dry) it also included most of the words and photos to write about it.  I guess now the only way to get it out of my head is to do it!  So what did I dream?


The other day we got to the bottom of the bag of potatoes we harvested in the summer.  All that is left is a bowl of tiny little tiddlers – that I guess we could roast and eat like popcorn next time we watch a movie!

Tiddler Spuds - All that's left from Summer

Before we got completely to the dust and dirt at the bottom of the bag I grabbed 3 spuds that had started to sprout – I don’t know why – force of habit really… they might get used at some point?  Now this is where my dream comes in, I must plant those three spuds.

Sprouting Desiree maincrop spuds

The problem is doing it in the ground is out of the question.  The last lot was supposed to be harvested on the 18th July.  I know you’re not supposed to grow them in the winter – but the seed potatoes were cheap in an end of season “reduced to clear bin” – I had to buy them.    They started off well as the summer didn’t seem to want to end, but then the rains came – and haven’t stopped and my spuds rotted away.

Where the last spuds were - now a soggy boggy mess!

So in my dream I put them in rolled down black sacks with holes poked in the bottom for drainage.  We should have a few hanging about because the council changed our rubbish collection from pre-paid stickers with black sacks to these pre-paid yellow bags that are a third the size – Grr.  But Hubby the Un-Gardener informs me we have no black sacks left.  I need to improvise.  What about the feed bags the firewood came in – that’ll do!  (Mental note to self:  order another load of firewood)

Empty feed back - rolled down

So all I have to do is assemble the lot and keep them in the greenhouse for 140 days (until November 14) – topping up as they grow. Simple!

Planting the spuds

And now I wait

So now I have pink Desiree maincrop potatoes to add to my Winter Indoor Summer Garden Experiment – alongside the tomatoes, pepper, chilli and eggplant.

Tomato plants in winter - with Tomatoes on it!

Come again soon – winter is just getting started – I wonder what other crazy projects I can do.

Sunflower in winter - in the greenhouse

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

I am a victim of the blogging bug.

It all stems from an email that crossed my path in late September 2010.  A local seed company offered the opportunity to compete in a Spring Veggie Growing challenge requiring blogs posted over the course of 3 months.  With the $1000 prize easily persuading me to enter, it wasn’t long before the prize became secondary – I got hooked on the writing, which is just as well because I didn’t win.  But over the course of the competition I made 84 posts about the ups and downs of life in my garden, which can be best described as a work in progress.

Once the competition ended I felt lost.  I didn’t have a forum to share the crazy thoughts and observations that routinely enter my head.  So when they re-launched a new version of the competition:  The Autumn Veggie Growing Challenge.  Not only did I get to grow the much maligned turnip and Brussels sprouts, I had the opportunity to write again.  (For the record – my family actually enjoyed the turnips – who’d have thought it?)  So 101 entries later and a growing following of loyal voters …..   Two of my favourite things were satisfied:  gardening and writing.  Life is good.

An unexpected side effect of the blogging is my garden is looking the best it has ever been.  Never before has my garden been “spring ready” in the middle of winter.  Normally it is languishing in a state of disarray with the decaying remains of summer crops past still there entangled with weeds, which require a mammoth effort to sort out in the spring – inevitably delaying the planting of summer crops.  The need to blog generates a need to “do something – anything” in the garden in order to have something to talk about.  Without blogging my garden will suffer – I must go on.  I must blog.  I need to for the sake of the garden.

Come again soon – I’m just getting started.

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

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