Strawberries for xmas

Yeah, that’s what I want! I’ve got a whole bed of them, 5m by 80cm. And yet last year, there wasn’t that many, and when the birds had eaten their share, well… This year I’m determined to do better by my red little delicious knobs, so I did a little research in order to get things right.

First of all, some of my plants are summer-fruiting varieties (Pajaro, Sundae, Camarosa) and others are day-neutral (Temptation). So I actually shouldn’t expect them to fruit all at once. Unfortunately, I’ve lost my scribbly papaer where I noted which plants are which variety, so I won’t be able to buy more of a specific one, should I want to (and the plants I’ve now grown from runners are… unknown variety!)

As my plants are already in place since two years, I don’t need to worry about that part. But if you’re wanting a piece of advice: Grow them in weed free soil, full sun, and easy to water! If it’s a deep bed (double dug, 60cm open soil), just add 2cm of compost and an organic fertiliser on the suface before planting, a wee bit of compost in the planting hole, and put plants at 30cm diagonal spacing (like the dots on a five on a dice).

If it’s in pots, just be sure to use big enough pots and good new potting mix (Dalton’s Organic Vegetable mix for example) or a mix of good garden soil, hot compost that is very well rotted (Making sure, again, it is weed free) and a bit of perlite for drainage and water retention. Then mulch really heavily – straw is great – and give them a liquid fertiliser at least once a month, home made comfrey is a good option.

Now, by reading up on strawberries I discover that I should’ve done some stuff at the end of last harvest (but with the arrival of baby I did have other priorities!):

  • Remove all the old mulch, pull weeds, and remove all old leaves from the plants, leaving about 10cm on each crown (plant).
  • Take up the “runners” (new plants that come from shoots off the old ones) to pot up for planting out later
  • And cover the soil so it doesn’t erode/cap/get sunburn.

Well… to remedy the situation of a very wild mixture of young and old plants, I’ll do what I can do at this stage:

  1. weed the whole bed
  2. remove the old leaves
  3. give them some compost & a good sprinkle of fertiliser (Nature’s Garden from Environmental Fertilisers, purchased at Commonsense Organics)
  4. install a dripline for watering (I have come to accept my laziness in this domain, and strawberries don’t like water on their leaves and fruit)
  5. apply a thick layer of mulch
  6. feed with Vegetative Foliar now
  7. feed with Reproductive Foliar bi-weekly through the flowering and fruiting season.

Voilà! I’ll tell you how it goes 🙂

This autumn, I’ll remove all the plants (they’ve been in the same spot for 3 years by then) and find another space for planting fresh, disease free plants spring 2018, as I messed up the propagation this time around. Learning from my mistakes!

 

 

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Plan your Edible Garden

What a storm! Blew away all the old and made fresh space for the new… Like every year, right now it feels like spring is never going to come. But I know that in just a couple of weeks I’ll be preparing beds and sowing spring crops at the urban farm here in Newtown.

How about you? Are you ready to get going with bed preparation and seed propagation as soon as the weather allows? If you haven’t got your garden planned out for the upcoming season yet, don’t despair! I’m running a workshop on that very subject – but it’s filling up fast, so if you’re interested, register straight away.

After a few windy days like these, you may want to look at wind proofing your garden. My main piece of advice (hard earned!!) is to get whatever strategy you choose implemented well before you sow and plant. Because, let’s face it, we all KNOW we’ll have more storms like this one before gentle December arrives! Cloches also help warming the soil up, and tarps can help the excess water drain away so you can broadfork earlier. Chose the techniques that are appropriate to your own garden, as there’s no one solution that works everywhere.

This week, my only garden tasks will be to get rid of the banana passionfruit vine which has managed to climb the peach tree while I had my back turned for a second, and pamper the tree with some worm castings from our absolutely over full worm farm (two birds, one stone 😉 ). If I get around to it, I might plant some spring bulbs that I have lying around.

 

Winter is for Dreams

Hello again! I’m almost back from maternity leave, my daughter is now 6 months and is enjoying some time with her nanny. So back to blogging, designing and farming!

Winter, for me, is stillness and darkness, a perfect time for dreaming. Of course some of our dreams will be about the coming of warmth and light, just like the dreams that lay hidden in the seed before germinating… All the information about what it will become and how, is already present in that teeny tiny speck. And when the conditions are right, it will send out its little root, then its little stem, and if the environment allows it will develop into the best version of what it can be.

I use this calm dark time to plan next seasons production in the garden and at the urban farm. Starting with my dream garden – like the information hidden in the seed – I then narrow this down to how many of each plant, how many seeds or plants to buy, and by when the beds need to be ready and warmed up to receive these. You can learn this method in the first session of my next workshop series, Grow More Veges #1: Plan your Edible Garden 2-3.30pm Sunday 30th July – register here!

To get as close as possible to the best version of that dreamed garden, I look closely at my notes of what worked and what didn’t last season. That special lettuce that handled the warm weather really well? The tomato variety that didn’t get psyllid? Grow them again, and maybe save some seed next season. On the other hand, the boggy area that got flooded in all those rains? Might need some double digging and maybe even drainage installed before planting out this spring.

These decisions all stem from the meeting point of my dreams of an edible oasis, and the conditions I have to deal with – like the fickle Wellington weather! Every season, I learn something new and get closer and closer, by keen observation and information gathering rather than hard work.

If you sign up to the full workshop series – 5 Sundays – you get a nice discount, and you get the opportunity to apply for the position as Gardener at the urban farm. Practice the skills you learn at the workshop alongside me and the Production Manager, and after three months with us you’ll have the confidence and skills to produce a good portion of your own food in the Wellington region – we focus on our local climate and soil so the growing strategies and techniques you learn will really work here.

I hope you have beautiful dreams this winter, and that you spend some time gathering the information you need to make them come true!

Super low maintenance garden

This year, I’m setting up a super low maintenance garden at home. With the baby arriving end of December, I won’t be out there weeding, watering or anything in January and February, yet I still want the soil to get better and also to eat some of my own produce… So how do I go about it?

Well, it does help that I’ve already got some good perennials going: Rhubarb, black & red currants, raspberries, lemons, peaches… I’ve also added in a full bed (5m by 80cm) of strawberries this winter – these only need a bit of liquid feed if they got plenty of compost and fertiliser when planted. Most of my hard-to-reach or dry areas are already covered in herbs which, if I don’t harvest them before they flower, attract bees and butterflies.

I’m choosing some different plants for my vege patch

  • Beans: my perennial runner beans are coming up, which is great, and I’ve planted some french garden filet dwarf beans too. I think these will be eaten and pulled before the baby’s here (or just about that time) and they will enrich the soil they grow in.
  • Cucumbers: with a sturdy structure to climb on, these will give some much needed shade for the rocket/coriander patch. And provide me with cucumbers which I won’t have to bend down to harvest!
  • Tree-lettuce: a variety of lettuce that doesn’t go bitter when it starts bolting. And it also bolts very slowly! Just harvest the bottom leaves (and if you don’t the snails will eat them). These can yield for months, much easier than having to replant lettuce every few weeks. I’ll leave them in place and let them go to flower so I can later harvest the seeds, as they are such a lifesaver for time-poor gardeners.
  • Perennial spring onions / Welsh bunching onions: these are a permanent feature in my garden, as they grow like chives and just keep coming back when you cut them. They taste more like “real onion” than spring onions, and can substitute either in most dishes. And on top of that, the green onions are more nutrient dense than yellow ones!
  • Potatos: just because I’ve got space left over, and my partner said he’d build a potato tower and add mulch as they grow. It’s an experiment we’ve wanted to do for a few years, but it’s never fit in to my crop rotations! We’ll measure how much the yield is for a tower. They’re much less work than tomatos (see below) and can take their place in the rotation.
  • Perpetual spinach: more versatile than silverbeet, it’s super hardy and will deal with anything you throw at it. You can’t even let the roots in the ground when you’re done with it, it just keeps growing back! 4-5 plants will be plenty of greenery for the two (soon three) of us.
  • Rocket, coriander and miners lettuce: in a patch, I’ve got all of these mixed together and I know that at some point they’ll all go to seed. Not an issue this year – I’ll either let the seedlings grow and eat them later in the year, or transplant them or pot up and give away… In the meantime, they cover the soil and are nice edible “weeds”!
  • Zucchini: I’ve planted 2, and count on them to take up a square meter each. Good cover for the bare ground, and I can just go out and pick what I need. Until they grow big, I’ve got radish sown in between, as they grow I’m harvesting the radishes and adding a bit of compost and mulch.

I’ve also changed my watering system. Instead of hand-held hose with a wand and very fine nozzle, which takes between an hour and three every 2-3 days over the driest period, I’m going for drip irrigation this year. It’s a first for me, so I’ll let you know how I go! I’ve got the theory, but not the practice on this 🙂 The idea is to have a system that goes through all of the growing areas, with the drippers at an appropriate distance for the plants’ needs. I’ll cover the driplines so they don’t get UV damage.

Mulch will be my saviour I think – I’m planning on cacao husks, if I can get it, otherwise straw, or compost plus wood chip if I can’t get neither. I usually plant very densely and weed as needed (generally only once after planting, as the leaf canopy quickly shades the weeds out when the vegetables are densely planted), but this year I don’t want to keep a constant eye on the garden and replant as I harvest. Mulch covers the soil and holds in moisture just as a good plant cover does, and doesn’t need the same maintenance.

What I won’t do, because it’s too much work

Tomatos – just the thought of tying up and delateraling weekly, liquid feeding, treating so they don’t get psyllids or blight or…. Rhaaa nononono! As lovely as they are when you’ve got the time & energy, it’s not for me this year 🙂

Carrots –  watering every day during germination, weeding religiously, thinning… no-no, all that crouching and bending isn’t for me right now. The organic ones from the store are totally ok for this season!

Kale, cavolo nero and the rest of the brassica family – over summer they all tend to get eaten by caterpillars, are prone to aphids and need a lot of nutrients and water. Can’t cope with that! I just might plant some very mature seedlings out in February, under netting, to have some next winter, but definitely not now.

Pumpkins – simply because they generally totally take over our whole garden, turning it into a jungle where my feet get tangled in their vines across the paths…

Spinach – bolts (goes to flower & becomes bitter) way too easily and need to be replanted regularly. Perpetual spinach can substitute in the kitchen.

Eggplant, capsicum, chilli, melon – these are soooo fussy with heat and often don’t yield well out of doors here in Wellington. I’ve grown them in the greenhouse, but they often get aphids there. So, not this year (I think…). But… maybe. What else would I do in the greenhouse? I can’t leave it empty… oh hard decisions 🙂

Peas – too much to think of. I’ll just forget to harvest them (I generally do anyway), and the structure can blow over and damage other things, and they get mildew if they get too dry in summer… nah. I love them though and wouldn’t usually do without.

THIS BLOG – as you can probably guess, I’m not going to necessarily write weekly! You’ll get the occasional post, but at some point there will be gaps of a few weeks or more. I know you understand – babies are kinda time consuming in many cases!  I’m officially on maternity leave from now on, so no longer available for design consultations or gardening advice. But I’ll let you know when I’m ready to start again – not before April 2017.

Big thanks for following this blog and spreading the gardening knowledge around! Happy growing season!

Bio-char workshop

Biochar workshop with Richard Self, 23rd October 2016 – Resumé by Kate Daniell

The day was a stunner – warm sun, blue skies and no wind. A perfect day for setting things on fire (in a very controlled manner). We were very lucky to have Richard Self, an experienced biochar producer and author of biochar papers, leading the workshop.

First up we started a burn of wood pellets using a TLUD micro-kiln, made out of old Milo cans. While that was ticking along merrily we had a crash-course on soil science, and how biochar contributes to soil health. Biochar has vast surface area due to the presence of many microscopic pores. These pores make biochar a reservoir for water and nutrients, and provide a great habitat for beneficial soil microorganisms, where they can hide from predatory protozoa.

biochar1

Left to right: One of our TLUDs; quenching the biochar, and paper cups: before and after. Photo credit Anna Kivi

 

Then it was into the nitty-gritty with biochar. Biochar the product of pyrolysing any organic material, from woodchips to dung. Pyrolysis is complex, but the key thing is that air flow is carefully restricted to the burning material – this results in the vast majority of the carbon in the organic material being retained, while pretty much everything else is burnt off – leaving you with relatively pure carbon with an awesome micro-structure. By contrast, when you burn wood on a normal fire (where oxygen flow is not restricted), all the carbon in the wood is turned into carbon dioxide, and the ash that remains consists of silicates, calcium carbonate and very alkaline potassium hydroxide.

So in summary, burying biochar in soil greatly improves soil fertility, while sequestering carbon underground for many years (potentially thousands), preventing it from entering our atmospheres as climate enemy CO2. What an epic win-win.

Without further ado, we proceeded to burn more stuff. We tried the Kon-tiki method (no, we didn’t burn a busload of partying youths) adapted for a metal wastepaper bin – I was pleasantly surprised at how simple this was. Next we got electric drill trigger-happy and built our own tin-can TLUDs. With the TLUDs, we experimented with making biochar from paper cups from the Hospital staff kitchens (we intend to work with the Hospital to help reduce this large waste stream of theirs). To our delight, it worked like a charm. To quench all the biochar we made, we used a homemade seaweed tea, to load the pores with nutrients.

Everyone went home with slightly sooty hands and the grins of people who have learnt a brilliant trick, which is sustainable, cheap and helps us grow better food while improving the planet for generations to come. Next, we will be doing experiments to see how our biochar affects plant growth, and organising another workshop that will be open to the public: watch this space! We might even toast some vegan marshmallows on the kilns next time.

biochar2

Left to right: using the Kon-tiki method with cardboard; how’s that for a workshop setting; and some finished biochar. Photo credit Anna Kivi

 

 

Written by Kate Daniell, the Compost Queen of workerBe oasis inc. soc.

 

First day of summer?

After the Spring Celebration a couple of weeks back, we’re now in a period that was celebrated by my ancestors as the first day of summer… even though neither in Sweden nor here it feels very summery at this point! It’s definitely clear that the seasons have turned and, apart a few southerly storms, it’s only going to get better.

Traditionally, this is the time for planting out the garden and dream of great healthy yields. To invite all the good energies / spirits / blessings (or whatever you want to call them) people used to light two new fires, by friction, and walk in between them. They also led the cattle between the fires to make the dairy ferment better! Often, all the old bones from winter were burned in these fires, and the ashes (with all that precious calcium) spread on the gardens. We can simulate this by making biochar and bonechar – we ran an internal workshop on biochar at workerBe oasis last weekend and are planning a public one for you – stay tuned!

Another tradition of this season was to visit a holy tree or well. I like to think of this as an invitation to connect with the wild nature surrounding us, maybe by a walk up a little stream in the forest. Feeling the energies of spring and summer growth that are present in the rising sap and sticking bare feet in the rushing water is such a pleasant way to welcome the warmer season! And if we don’t have the opportunity for a nature walk, maybe a few green branches by the entrance door, decorated with ribbons? Yellow flowers are abundant at this time and symbolise the light and warmth coming – maybe some broom branches?

To do this week (new moon Sunday 30th)

  • Check your brassicas are doing all right, give them extra seaweed liquid to strengthen their natural resistance to sucking insects and caterpillars
  • After the rain we had Wednesday, everything will grow crazy this week! But warm days alternate with cold, and Monday night will be quite cold by the looks of it. If you’ve planted out any heatlovers (chilli, tomato, aubergine…) continue to protect them overnight with a plastic cloche or microklima cloth.
  • Enjoy the growth burst! Find a nice spot to sit down and observe the garden. So much is going on now!
  • Continue to pamper your seedlings so you can plant them out in the first half of November.
  • Keep on top of weeds by weekly hoeing.
  • Sow seeds for flowers and companions: sunflowers, cosmos, gaillardia, alyssum…

Prepp for next week

  • By the end of this week, put the pots or trays of seedlings outside during the days to start hardening them off. Then progressively put them out for longer and longer periods. Before planting, leave them just next to where you will plant them for a good 24 hours. Slow hardening off means the plants are much less stressed and will cope with the planting out much better, leading to less slug/snail attacks and healthier plants.
  • Make sure you’ve got all the liquid fertilisers you need, gather materials to start new ones if you need. Best time to liquid feed is before and after full moon, that’s in about 2 weeks time.
  • Book a workshop 🙂 Next Wednesday, we’re working out plans for gardens to make the most of both the time and space we have. I’ll go through, step by step, how to plan a new vege garden, and how to adapt what you have to make it more efficient and abundant: Garden in Time & Space.

 

Last workshops of the year

For the next five Wednesdays, I’ll be running the Grow More Veges workshops. This week we did Perfect Compost, next week we’ll explore Double Digging and soil health in general, then you can learn about how to Garden in Time & Space – how to arrange your beds and your plantings to maximise the use of a small urban garden. Finally, we’ll go through the nitty gritty of how to Sow Seeds (and which to choose) so they produce healthy seedlings, looking at their families, history and needs ; and how to Plant Plants so the tender youngsters survive and thrive. Finally, we’ll cover Maintenance, to make sure you have what you need to keep all your edibles happy and productive all through the year.

You can take the workshops independently, or all in a row as they do partly build on each other. My aim with this workshop series is to provide the full range of basic knowledge and hands-on skills you need to be able to grow a decent amount of your own fresh veges in Wellington. Advice and ideas are tested and proven to work with the climate we have here and with the size and styles of gardens that are common here – steep slopes, awkward shade, natives, clay or sand subsoil etc. There are still spots open, so don’t hesitate to sign up if you’re tempted! The groups are small and there’s plenty of opportunities for questions and discussion.

If you’ve seen me lately, you know I’ve got a bulging bump! By the end of November, I’ll go on maternity leave. I’m not setting a specific date for being back in action, but I do have the intention of running this workshop series again in April… if I feel up for it, if it’s still a priority for me – chances are my priorities change with this major new person in my life. So if you’re keen on learning, now is the time!

This week in your Edible Oasis

  • If you have any brassicaceae growing in your garden (cabbage, kale, cavolo nero, broccoli, cauli…), get Bt-spray to stop the ravages of the white butterfly caterpillars (see photo above) which are becoming more and more present. Bt comes as a powder, marketed by KiwiCare brand as “Caterpillar Control”, that you dilute in water and spray onto all surfaces of the plant. These “Bacillum thuringiensis” will infect the caterpillars and cause them to die, hopefully before they have devoured your plants!
  • If you managed to get hold of some comfrey root last week, you can plant it now. Each plant takes up a good 60-80cm round, so plant pieces of root at that distance and mulch between.
  • We have this strong southerly today and tomorrow, but then it will get more stable from Sunday on. Make sure your cloches and other light structures (pea teepees etc) are anchored well enough to not blow away tonight!
  • Keep an eye on rainfall – anything less than 5mm in a 24h period is probably only wetting the top few centimeters, so check soil moisture a spade depth down too. It’s good to get the habit now, so you know what moist vs. too dry soil looks like in summer. For example, check Monday night when we’ve had 3-4 days of no rain and lots of wind, and then again Wednesday night after the rain.
  • If your site is getting dry (at a spade depth) start watering. And water direct sown seeds daily until they develop true leaves.
  • Apply mulch anywhere you haven’t yet (apart from on your direct sown seeds). Seaweed is really good for fruit trees and bushes this time of year, check the south coast for washed up stuff after the southerly swell, making sure you avoid the Marine Reserves!
  • If your berry bushes are starting to form fruit, put netting up this week – by next week the berries may already start to take on some colour and the birds will quickly find them!
  • If you have germinated seeds which have opened their cotyledons, transplant them into deeper trays or pots at 2-5cm spacing depending on varieties (check seed packet or Koanga Garden Guide for more info).

Prepp for next week

  • Pamper your seedlings so you can plant them out in the first half of November. Liquid fertilisers and slow hardening off is the recipie for success.
  • Keep on top of weeds by regular hoeing. Much easier than pulling bigger weeds by hand, and you’ll exhaust the weed seed bank in the top few cm by hoeing regularly, with long term benefits.

Happy gardening, and hope to see you at the workshops!

Food gardening in Wellington NZ