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Garden

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May 2022
AUTUMN IN THE GARDEN 

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Autumn is without a doubt my favourite time of the year.

The days are still lovely and warm but the subtle chill at nights sends a reminder that winter and all its comforts are just around the corner, patiently waiting.

There is an abundance of produce in the garden that needs to be harvested and preserved to prepare for the inevitable slowing down of edible crops. The kitchen turns into a full production line with large simmering pots of chutneys and pickles, bottled sauces and pickled beetroot cooling on the bench, beans and chilis drying on any available surface, and experimental ferments fizzing and bubbling on top of the fridge. The larder slowly transforms from shelves of empty Agee jars and bottles to a colourful array of preserved wholefood goodness.

I get as much satisfaction from the sight of these preserves lined up on the shelves as I do eating them. 

In the garden the beans for drying need picking daily, especially if rain is forecast. Fallen feijoas need harvesting from the ground under each tree, Chilian guavas and aronia berries need to be picked and frozen for smoothies down the track. The Granny Smith apples are making a full display, so they are picked when 

ready too, just by gently bending the stem where the apple attaches to the tree to see if it comes off easily. If it does it is ready.

 

Summer hasn’t quite left us yet, with zucchini, chilis, and tomatoes still overflowing out of bowls on the kitchen bench.  

The early dried black beans I missed harvesting in February have surprised me by sprouting into lush plants, which means I am harvesting lovely tender fresh autumn beans. This is one of the many joys of gardening, when Mother Nature decides what to grow and when to grow it, and one of the bonusses of living in such a warm climate.  

Harvesting: apples, Chilian guavas, aronia berries, feijoas, figs, beetroot, silverbeet, cavelo nero, kale, black beans, red kidney beans, carrots (just beginning), rocket, butternuts, the last of the tomatoes, tabasco, poblano and serrano chilis, basil, Italian parsley, chives, zucchini (still!), potatoes, spring onions and fresh beans. The tomatillos are filling out and will be harvested soon for salsa verde. Thanks to our new chickens we are getting two eggs every day and we are still waiting for the third chicken Mandala to begin laying.

Sowing and planting: broad beans, peas, garlic, coriander, fennel, and more carrot seeds are all germinating now, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower and spring onions have been planted for winter and spring harvest. Runners off the strawberries are being planted out (only the first ones stemming from the main plant though).   

  

Growing: the leeks I planted in early February are fattening up nicely, the Triamble pumpkins are getting large but are not ready yet, the yams are doing their thing under the ground, as are some random self-seeded potatoes, and the citrus grove is full of promise with an abundance of lemons and limes just beginning to ripen. There are tangelos, mandarins and pepinos coming on too, and there are two pears on one of our espaliered pear trees we planted two years ago – I must pick them... 

Other garden happenings: the spring compost is being put to good use and incorporated into the soil before I plant out my garlic and winter crops. Any remaining compost will get put around fruit trees and on any vacant garden beds. I've also accumulated a large collection of garden waste to make an autumn compost which I will do once I get hold of some fresh straw to replace the chicken coop straw – this dirty straw will then be put in as a layer in the compost. Cuttings have been taken of figs, blueberries, currants, gooseberries, aronia and Chilian guavas, as well as lavender, rosemary and sage.  

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August 2022
WINTER IN THE GARDEN 

Homegrown organic Cabbage in our winter garden in Karamea New Zealand

Winter is the perfect time to stop, rest and reflect on the year that has been and the up and coming year ahead. This is especially relevant when it comes to the garden and planning for the following growing season.

 

A lot of this planning can be done with a hot cup of tea in front of the fire, such as seed ordering, designing new garden beds, and planning for the next stage of crop rotation. I have an exercise book that all of this goes into, and because I'm a visual person I like to draw each years plan into this book, so I can look back at previous years to ensure I'm rotating my crops adequately. I realise this method may not suit everyone and that some of you may find it easier to keep a digital record of your garden plantings or that you might have a more streamlined way of record keeping, but it works for me. I find my sketches and doodles help to keep me inspired and excited while serving as a visual reminder of the evolution of the garden so far, and what I would like it to evolve to in the future.

This winter has been particularly wet so my days in the garden have been limited, but when the weather has allowed I've spent my time completing the autumn compost by adding spent summer 

crops and chicken manure, pruning the orchard - especially the citrus and feijoa trees to allow better airflow - and feeding all the leeks and brassicas with worm juice from the bath worm farm.

Tomato, aubergine and chili seeds are about to be sown - I like to keep the seed trays inside the house cosied up with hot water bottles until the true leaves show, then I will gradually harden them up until it is time to prick them out in early spring.

The autumn chutney and sauce making has made way for winter cabbage and beetroot ferments, ginger beer bugs, and homemade lemonade from the abundant crops of lemons and limes I have been harvesting. I have also taken advantage of more time in the kitchen to develop and tend to my own sourdough starter, resulting in many crunchy and moreish loaves of nourishing bread.

Harvesting:  leeks, yams (the first time I have grown them, and what a success they have been), cavelo nero, kale, brocolli, spring onions, carrots, rocket (still!), poblano, Thai and tabasco chilis (still again!), beetroot, chard. silverbeet, limes, lemons, manderins, feijoas, tangelos, coriander (just beginning)  

Sowing and planting: August seed sowing of tomato, aubergine, capsicum and chili, also lettuce, silverbeet, spring onions, fennel, all year round cauliflower and a third sowing of broad beans to harvest in summer. Also coriander was sown in the seedling house in May we are eating it now.

  

Growing: the March and April planted broad beans are doing really well - I find successive plantings are imperative for this crop as a glut of broad beans can sometimes be overwhelming, and the best time to eat them is when they are still young. The nitrogen that the beans release into the soil as they are growing is a valuable asset at this time of the year. By the time the beans are being harvested the soil will have stored ample nitrogen which will then benefit your spring seedlings and early summer seedlings. I have winter coriander growing well in the seedling house which we have just begun eating, and the chard and silverbeet just keep giving.

Other garden happenings: the soft fruit, herb and flower cuttings I took in autumn are looking good with roots coming out of the bottoms of the pots, so my job as we come into early spring is to pot them into bigger containers. All the autumn planted cauliflower decided to succumb to buttoning, meaning the curds matured too soon which left me with a small button like head on top of a tiny plant. This was disappointing, but I think the reason was because I didn't properly adapt the seedlings to the environment they were going into. They had been outside in cold, so when I planted them into the warm dry tunnel house I thought I was doing them a favour. I know for next time that hardening off not only refers to getting a plant used to the cold, but also getting it used to the warmth before planting out.

Broad Beans growing in our organic kitchen garden

October 2022

SPRING IN THE GARDEN 

large organic buttercrunch lettuce harvest

Every gardener looks forward to Spring. It is a season full of hope and anticipation, when all that winter daydreaming and planning can begin to come to fruition.

In saying that, it is the one time of the year when the garden yield is at its all-time lowest.

Until the perennial asparagus spears begin to peep their heads up out of the soil and the broad beans and broccoli start producing, we are relying on the last of the autumn preserves, the stored dried beans and the odd carrot or potato that gets dug up whilst weeding.

 

Luckily for us though our warm environment means that the silverbeet and salad greens have never really ended, and there is always plenty of nasturtium, self-seeded rocket, and overwintered spring onions in the garden. Spring flowers are in full display, with the edible ones featuring a lot in the kitchen. They are a lovely way to add colour and variety to what would otherwise be a simple leaf salad, and at this time of the year I also get excited about new ways I can bring out the delicate floral flavour of lavender within my sweet dishes.  

All the berries and currants are either beginning to flower or have starting to make little berries and currants, and the black passion fruit vines have been fed, mulched and trained, and are about to burst into flower. 

In late winter we manured our garden beds with a beautiful mix of cow poo and hay that came free from a local farmer, and now that it is planting time compost and worm castings are being incorporated into the soil too. If you have a trailer and a friendly farmer living nearby don’t be shy to ask if they might have some manure you can collect, or even a pen full of spent hay or woodchips that once housed animals. You may be doing them a favour by offering to take it away, as unless they are using it for their own gardens the likelihood is that they will need to empty out the pen before new animals can come into it. Another thing that is sometimes very cheap or free are broken silage bales as these can no longer be used as feed if the weather has spoilt the silage, but they are a valuable garden asset when used as mulch around fruit trees. 

Harvesting: broad beans, lettuces, asparagus, coriander, sprouting broccoli, cauliflower and rhubarb (thanks to our neighbours, read below) silverbeet, oranges, lemons, rocket, nasturtium, Italian parsley, mint, coriander, and all of the chickens are continuing to lay three eggs a day.

 

Growing: garlic, elephant garlic, Maris Anchor potatoes, more broad beans, fennel, parsley, lettuces, and the savoy cabbages are almost ready for harvest, although they aren’t that impressive this season to be honest. The tomato seedlings are growing very well and have been planted out into deep holes in the seedling and tunnel house, with a heaped teaspoon of milk powder under each plant to help avoid blossom end rot, something I have been doing for years now that really seems to work. They are also getting regular worm juice drinks and are just beginning to flower now. The chilis and aubergines are still growing in their pots – a bit slow due to the cold snap we have had, but I have faith that they will grow larger when they are ready. Red onions have been planted into heavily composted then well compacted soil, and spring onions are about to be planted too. Seeds have been sown for cucumbers, gherkins, butternuts and Triamble pumpkins, zucchini, and basil. I am yet to plant carrots, beetroot or sweetcorn, but these are next on my list, along with rock melons after last year's success. 

Other garden happenings: The berry, currant and herb cuttings I took in autumn are doing well, and I have repotted the red currants, rosemary, lavender and purple sage into bigger pots. The blueberries, black currants and gooseberries need a bit more root development before they get repotted, and the fig cuttings didn’t take, so I will try to take some spring fig cuttings instead and see how they go. The plums have blossomed, but I am struggling to see much fruit development so far, and the pears, apples and peach are all in flower. The feijoas and citrus are just beginning to bud, the latter of which will perfume the whole garden with the heady musk of warm summer nights once they are in full flower. 

a garden bed of organic lettuces and spring onions with self seeding silverbeet

Lots of seeds and plants are sprouting and popping up on their own accord all through the garden. Rocket, lettuces and kale are the first things to spring to life, then it's usually the parsley that comes along to join the party. In my seedling house I have a collection of cucurbits popping up from the worm castings I mixed through the soil. The only problem is I can't tell the difference between whether I have pumpkins/zucchinis, and cucumbers/rock melons ..... hence why I have still planted seeds of all these things! Confusion aside, this is one of the many things I love about using permaculture principles within organic gardening – the fact that plants are allowed to go to seed in fertile organic soil means half the garden plants itself. When plants are left to do this, they will magically appear in their ideal space, at a time that is most beneficial to them, with their perfect companion plant friends growing around them. This magic never fails to amaze me.

We have also had the pleasure of looking after our neighbours property while they are away, and because their gardens are on water

retentive flats, we have been harvesting their luscious rhubarb, which is something I have never been able to grow properly up here on the hill. They also left with about 6 large cauliflowers forming, so I have been tying the outer leaves around the curds as they swell, and I just harvested the last one yesterday. This has been a blessing, because our autumn sown cauliflowers failed - you can read about why in the Winter in the Garden section

An early summer harvest of redcurrants

For me early summer in the food garden is all about strawberries, redcurrants, raspberries and blueberries, all of which add a colourful festive vibe outside and in the kitchen. It begins with the odd ripe berry or currant here and there, but it isn’t long before every excursion to the garden requires a clean bowl or container to collect fruit in.   

We have quite a few strawberry plants that I have been building up over the years through planting runners every autumn, and at this time of the year strawberry feeding and hygiene is paramount for harvesting large healthy fruit. I feed them with worm juice or seaweed tonic every few weeks during the growing season, and I always keep the plants well weeded and cut off any yellowing or old leaves. This seems to make such a difference to the fruit production and health of the plant. Of course, the next thing I have to battle is slaters and little fingers, the latter of which can devour a crop of berries in seconds!  

Redcurrants aren’t as common in the garden as they once were, but I couldn’t do without them. Granted, they are fiddley to pick, and you really need to cover them with bird netting to get a decent crop, but I always look forward to the arrival of these ruby red jewels in summer. 

 We have three large redcurrant bushes with more coming on in pots, and they are finally producing decent crops. No matter how small the harvest is I freeze the redcurrants in a single layer before bagging them into freezer bags. It is (very!) hard to resist eating them straight off the plant, but it doesn’t take long before one bag is full, then another and another. Redcurrants defrost well if you just want to use them raw to top a tart or to put into a Christmas fruit salad. My eldest son loves the flavour the frozen fruit gives to his smoothies, but one of my favourite ways to enjoy them is to make a redcurrant coulis to top pancakes or waffles. The colour is amazing and the unique flavour is sweet and tart all at the same time. 

The other hit in the garden at the moment is our broad beans. This year I did early and late plantings, and I harvested the last wheelbarrow load (yes, you read that right!) yesterday. Up until recently we have been eating the young beans fresh straight out of the pod – broad bean falafel is beautiful made with young beans - replace half the chickpeas with raw broad beans - Falafel recipe here – but when they get to this older stage, once they have been podded they get blanched quickly in some boiling water so I can pop the grey skins off each bean.

 

This double podding can seem daunting, so it is best to make this a family affair and get some little fingers involved if you can. So much of our life is spent rushing around on the go, and a mundane task like this that allows us to spend time with those we love is a nice way to slow down and connect. 

Once the skins have been slipped off the tender bean underneath is bright green and sweet, ready to liven up a meal or portion up and freeze for later use. 

strawberry plants with lots of ripe fruit on them

Harvesting: redcurrants, strawberries, alpine strawberries, raspberries, broad beans, savoy cabbage, sprouting broccoli, silverbeet, lettuces, coriander, kale, fennel bulbs, asparagus just finishing, new season Italian parsley, basil just beginning, nasturtium leaves and flowers, rocket 

Sowing and planting: gherkins, carrots, summer lettuces, coriander, basil, and I have been repotting the blueberry, red/blackcurrant and Chilian guava cuttings I took back in autumn. We are going away soon, so I have decided to save my beetroot and silverbeet sowing until we get back. Normally I would sow in December, but I'm confident January sown beetroot will be all good. 

Growing: elephant garlic, garlic, red onions, spring onions, chilis, aubergines, sixty or so tomato plants situated in the covered growing houses and dotted throughout the garden, sweetcorn, courgettes, butternuts and Triamble pumpkins, carrots, passionfruit, bananas (the first bunch of fruit is developing well which is promising!), runner beans, black beans, blackcurrants, boysenberries, wineberries, apples and pears looking good with plenty of fruit, plum trees growing well but no sign of fruit for some reason...and the feijoas and citrus are in full flower and early fruit development. 

Other garden happenings: the curry leaf tree has come back to life with a full flush of new branches growing before my eyes, some of which will be ready for harvesting soon. With some investigation I have learnt that contrary to what I thought curry trees like regular feeding and quite a bit of water, solving the puzzle of why mine has never looked that great, since I have never fed it and only water it when I remember! I’m also going to overwinter it inside the house next winter instead of the tunnel house, as even though we live in a warm environment it seems toasty winters by the fire would give this Indian native a much better chance at survival.

The blueberries are plumping up nicely, so I have covered them with bird netting. They will be ready for harvesting soon. The Chilian guavas are flowering. I am letting the asparagus go to seed, but I need to get in there and give the patch a good weed before the feathery asparagus gets too much taller – if I let the weeds take over now then next year's crop will be jeopardized.

The big news in the garden (but not good news by far) is that all my garlic except for 10 elephant garlic plants has developed a dire case of the dreaded rust. I have had rust before but never this bad, and even though I planted the cloves early on in April and May, it has arrived in full force.

 

Rust is a fungal disease that affects the whole plant by covering it in small rust coloured dots that eventually become raised and take over the whole plant, killing off leaves, reducing the plants ability to make bulbs, and even killing entire crops if left unchecked. This is an extremely big deal for me because the garlic I plant each year is from organic seed I have been saving for 18 years – not something I want to lose!  Because I have been saving only the biggest and best cloves for so long, my garlic bulbs have been getting larger and larger over time.

rust infected garlic crop that has been pruned back

I am worried that the rust is so bad this year I won’t get any bulbs at all, in fact I dug a plant up 3 weeks ago, and again a few days ago, and neither of them had bulbed up. In desperation I went out and cut all the rust infected leaves off the plants – this means that on a few plants most of the leaves are now removed – and my plan is to wait another three weeks or so, in which time I am hoping the garlic can put all its energy into producing at least some sort of bulb. I have read a lot about planting garlic much earlier than the traditional shortest day of the year to prevent rust, which is why this year I planted it so early. But from my reckoning, the main causes of rust are wet and cloudy weather that doesn’t allow the plant to dry out sufficiently between waterings, and looking back at my Winter in the Garden blog I can see it was a very wet winter. 

I think next year I’m going to go back to planting garlic in June, but for now any healing vibes you can send my garlic would be much appreciated! Fingers crossed it will bulb up enough to be usable, and I am thankful that at least the elephant garlic is showing no sign of infection.... yet. 

orange gazania flowers and purple heliotrope flowers
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