5 signs of spring

A definite feeling of spring has arrived (for example, today the weather has swung from rain and hail this morning, to now bathing the house and garden in brilliant sunshine).

Rather than write a few hundred words about the changes spring is bringing to our garden, here are 5 pictures showing some of the seasonal highlights so far:

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Bee Awareness

September is ‘Bee Awareness’ month, with gardeners encouraged to make a place for bees – those all-important pollinators – in our summer plans.

Bookends made from a classic 'Buzzy Bee' toy

Bookends made from a classic ‘Buzzy Bee’ toy

Our supermarkets would be very different (very empty) without the food pollinated by bees, and even in our modest garden, they have a big role to play. I talked a bit about this (and why we don’t have beehives of our own) last year.

Looking after bees in our garden is relatively straightforward, with three guiding rules:

  1. Avoid bee-hazardous pesticides
  2. Provide water and a place for bees to rest
  3. Plant the kinds of flowers that bees love to visit

Avoiding pesticides is the easy one for us – our ‘no nasties’ gardening regime is naturally bee-friendly.

Similarly, water has been in no short supply for the last 18 months – falling from the sky more often than we would have liked. However with summer (hopefully) coming, we’ll provide bees and other tiny visitors with water in shallow dishes, with some large marbles and stones so bees can land and safely sip at the water’s edge.

The thing which requires us to really prepare are the flowers. One of the lovely people at my day job gave us seeds left over from her wedding, which will provide bees with a feast of nectar (and give us a palette of beautiful colour). We also have a few wildflower seeds from last year, and are planning some specific companion planting of nasturtiums and calendula around our fruit trees.

To encourage bees to travel around our whole garden, we’ll mix flowers throughout the beds – some in with our main vegetables, others nearby, and still more beside the house (where we had wildflowers last year).

Planning and planting is going to keep us buzzy – sorry, busy – for a good couple of days, but as a result, we’ll have happy bees and productive trees (as well as productive vegetables) for summer.

5 things in the garden this week

Garlic

Our garlic has finally come up!

After a couple of cold snaps in July, the weather has mostly settled down – and with the number of daylight hours visibly increasing, perhaps summer is on its way.

I had written off the garlic we planted about a week after winter solstice as a lost cause, but almost all of it has suddenly sprouted. Maybe it heard me saying we should dig the bed over and prepare it for something else, and finally got its hustle on…

We also have seed potatoes chitting in the linen cupboard.  This year we’ve gone for ‘Heather’, a red variety that’s good for roasting or boiling, and we should be eating them at Christmas.

As it’s been my second (and last for now) week at home, we’ve put a bit of effort into tidying things up in the garden, and planning some next steps. Here are the 5 main things we’ve done:

  1. Pruned our fruit trees
    It’s really a bit late for this, but pruning needs to be done on a dry day, so we took the chance we had. We pruned to remove any dead wood, and to open out the branches so we can get better air flow through the tree (which reduces the chance of fungal diseases). As a bonus, it also means there’s more room for fruit to form.
  2. Nipped flowers and fruit off our strawberries
    This felt harsh – the promise of strawberries is alluring, even though out-of-season fruit isn’t good to eat. Trimming these back now, however, means the plants will put all their energy into growing. Ultimately, they’ll be ready to fruit well when the summer really hits, so a little imaginary loss now will be well worth it in December.
  3. Freed our citrus from their frost cloth
    This is another reasonably big call – we can’t promise there won’t be any more frosty mornings, but it seems a decent bet we’re through the coldest part of winter. These new trees (we only bought them in early winter) were also outgrowing their wispy cloth shrouds, and we figured that improving their access to sunlight is probably more beneficial to them at this point.
  4. Pulled out (most of) our carrots
    We’ve had carrots in the ground for quite a while, and would have harvested them at least a month or two ago, if we didn’t already have an abundant supply. Carrots store well in the ground for quite a while, but now they’re starting to grow too large for their own good, so out they came. As a bonus, for the next few days our pet rabbits get to enjoy a treat of fresh carrot leaves!
  5. Started planning the summer garden
    Yes – it’s that time again! Our first challenge is figuring out where to plant in summer, since quite a few of the things in the ground now (garlic, kale, cavolo nero and even silverbeet) will still be growing well into the summer. We’ll need to find room for lettuces, tomatoes, corn and a few other summer goodies somewhere!

Settling down

I don’t know if we found 25 things to donate/recycle/dispose of last weekend. In fact, we haven’t made the trip to donate what we did decide we could do without, so technically we’re still at zero.

However, it does feel a lot more organised and nicer around here. I’m not completely sure why – we’ve rearranged bookshelves and cupboards so things work better, and maybe that’s enough for now. I appreciate how long it takes to really settle into a place – it requires much more than unpacking the moving boxes for a house to become an established home. I think we’re still working through some of that, as we slowly realize the potential we saw when we bought this place.

The days are officially getting longer again, and maybe knowing the seasons are changing is also having an effect on me. Whatever it is, I won’t argue!

I hope we actually get enough of a break from rain (and wind) soon for me to copper spray the fruit trees. Copper is a harsh treatment, but it’s supposed to stop leaf curl (although we still had a bit of it last year), and it’s better than inorganic alternatives.

We’re feeding the chickens lots of protein at the moment, getting them ready to go back into lay as the daylight hours increase. We’re getting between one and three eggs a day at the moment, and I’m looking forward to when the Rhode Island Reds who hatched at new year start producing.

Anyway, it feels like things are settling down a little – no doubt not for long (because change is a constant and I hate to stand still), but right now, it’s quite nice.

-G

Slow and steady

It’s been a topsy turvy week, but I have an extra long weekend and spent most of Saturday catching up on sleep, so things are getting better.

The main achievement so far this weekend has been setting up the rest of our strawberry garden. We built most of this garden bed back in January, but were waiting for our existing strawberry plants to finish fruiting before moving them. Finally, they’ve almost come to a halt, so we’ve built up the rest of the bed and shifted them across.

Completed strawberry garden

Since this photo was taken, I’ve weeded most of the main vegetable garden, which was at risk of turning back into lawn. After removing 3 buckets full of mostly grass (good bonus food for the chickens), our kale, brassicas and silverbeet should have less competition for soil nutrients.

We don’t have too much else lined up for the rest of the weekend – I’ve read a NZ Gardener magazine (so now I’m only one month behind), and been slowly but steadily pottering around the house. That’s roughly my plan for the next couple of days, as well.

– G

Bedroom (almost) complete and turning into a pumpkin

Plastering and painting in our bedroom was completed this week, and we’ve moved back in. The electrician still has to finish fitting our new power points, but it’s such a great feeling to have at least one room which is practically perfect.

Finished!

Outside in the garden, we’ve been considering what to do with our pumpkins. The vine has died off, but the seeds we planted – despite being saved from a Crown pumpkin – have given us fruit that look distinctly like buttercup squash.

It’s quite likely they could be Crowns that simply haven’t had the sun or the warmth to mature – and cutting one open, they don’t have the well developed seedy centre, which gives this possibility extra weight. However, I also wonder whether they could be a cross-bred variety that’s reverted.

Either way, we’ll roast some up and see. We’ve only got five pumpkins of small to medium size, but considering the seed was free and they were so easy to grow, that’s an acceptable haul.

It’s been a cold week, and while we haven’t actually had a frost yet, our mint is dying back (it really doesn’t like the cold). We’ve invested in some frost cloth for the citrus trees, and hopefully can get that on today.

-G

The chuckling earth

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “earth laughs in flowers” – if so, we’ve had some delightful chuckles here lately.

I confess I’m not a huge fan of planting flowers for flowers’ sake, and prefer things which are productive. The flowers on our potatoes, zucchini or pumpkins make me smile all the more because they are both beautiful, and a hint of the harvest to come.

Yet down one side of our house we planted wildflowers to attract bees, and it’s these which are currently expressing the humour Ralph Waldo Emerson found in his soil.

(If anyone can identify that lovely pink flower for us, it’d be great!)

Of course, we have plenty of other beautiful flowers that in turn give us food. Our NZ Cranberry – aka Chilean Guava – bush looks to have gone from a prolific bloomer into a good little fruiter. Fingers crossed they ripen up!

New Zealand Cranberry

-G

Strawberry fields

Yesterday’s stunning weather gave us a chance to get out in the garden and make another of the improvements we’ve been looking at for some time – extending our strawberry patch.

This summer we’ve grown about 10 strawberry plants in tyres, and we’re still picking a handful of berries every couple of days. However we haven’t had enough to stop us needing to buy the occasional punnet, so we decided to prepare a bigger area for next year.

Since the current strawberry patch seems to meet the plants’ requirements for warmth and sun, it was logical to just extend it to run the whole length of the main vegetable garden above. Two 2.4 meter macrocarpa sleepers form our edging, and we’ve made the whole bed about 80cm wide. That means we can fit the existing tyres inside, so we don’t have to disturb the producing plants, but can easily transplant them once they finish fruiting.

Inside the bed, we’ve got thick cardboard to keep weeds out, then we’re making use of the waste from our animals by layering wood chips with chicken poo mixed in and hay from our rabbits. We’ve also used the first of our homemade compost from last year, and a layer of store-bought compost is on top.

Strawberry bed, showing existing tyres

It’s great seeing what could be considered as rubbish instead being used for good growing, and we’ve already pulled the longest runners across from our existing plants to take root. Today we should plant some runners that J’s mum has given us, so the whole bed can hopefully be solidly established by wintertime.

While J loves a wide range of fruit (and particularly stonefruit), strawberries are one of the few fruits that I particularly enjoy. We’re both looking forward to having an abundant supply of our own in future!

-G

The post-Christmas garden

The post-Christmas holiday is always one of my favourite parts of the year. With a week still to go, I’ve almost completely lost track of the days, and am enjoying the opportunity to sleep in, read and (for the most part) rely on decent weather.

Around the house there’s been some decent progress, with a few more things still needing to be finished off.

We planted half a dozen new tomato plants, to replace the ones killed off early in the season by frost and wind. It’s probably a bit late to plant tomatoes now, and “too early, then too late” could end up being the epitaph for our tomato efforts this year. We’re only looking for a few handfuls of fruit from them though, so I’m hopeful we’ve done enough.

We’ve also put a dozen basil plants around the tomatoes, partly because I’d love to be able to make my own pesto, but also because they work well as companion plants.

Our strawberries are finally paying back our attention with some big, sweet fruit – at least some of which we’re managing to save from the slaters. I don’t think we’ll plant strawberries in tires again, partly because of questions about whether they might leech chemicals into the soil, but also because it’d be hard to get enough tires to fit the number of plants (and fruit) we’re looking for.

The first of our lettuces are almost ready to harvest, and my second planting of carrots will need thinning soon, too.

Inside the house, I’ve spent a lot of time reading. I’m racing through some of my backlog of fiction before getting into the two fantastic books J gave me for Christmas – Small House Living and Embrace Your Space. Both are New Zealand-centric and are simply beautiful books to look at, as well as being packed with great ideas and inspiration.

So on that note, I’ll sign off.

-G

The darling buds of… October

Columnar apple tree in bloom

“The darling buds of May” doesn’t really work in this hemisphere, as May is when we’re starting to brew our warm winter soups and hibernate indoors*. At this time of year, though, the promise of growth and new life is all around.

Our columnar apple tree is showing that it’s survived the winter chills (and its own re-potting), with what feels like a sudden burst of buds. Not to be outdone, our dwarf cherry tree has also done its best to bloom. They’re promising signs for the future.

Our first cherry blossoms

Not to be outdone – our first cherry blossoms

Despite this being the traditional weekend for planting many of our summer vegetables, I’m still reticent about investing too much time and energy. We had a frost this morning, which would have been hard on new veges (though it suits our remaining kale quite nicely), and a good 2 or 3 days each week are still dominated by torrential downpours.

Regardless, it’s an ideal time to prepare the soil, so I’m putting some effort into that. When we have more consistent weather – and more darling buds on our apple trees – everything will be in place to plant.

-G

* With apologies to Shakespeare