Category Archives: Gardening tips

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.

VoilĂ ! 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.

 

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.

 

Full moon October

Protecting young plants

From my last few posts, and probably your own experience too, you gather the importance of good care for your young “babies” freshly planted out in the garden. Wellington weather in this season varies wildly, and a night of southerlies can check the growth for several days or even weeks.

This coming week, we have quite stable temperatures, although windy and dry. This is a good thing! Hopefully, the soil will warm up – especially if you have cloches or black plastic out – and be ready to welcome some heatlovers in a couple of weeks: zucchini, green beans, and the first tomatos.

To do 14th – 21st October (Full moon Sunday 16th)

  • Prick out & plant out leafy plants: lettuce, chard/silverbeet, spinach, cabbage, kale, cavolo nero… Best done 14-16th.
  • Foliar feed today Friday if you didn’t yesterday, and then again Wednesday 19th – seaweed is ideal with all the micronutrients.
  • Prick out tomatos, eggplants, zuccinis and other fruiting plants Monday 17th and Tuesday 18th.
  • Sow lawn seeds on prepared areas on the day of the full moon for quick germination.
  • Wednesday 19th October is ideal for seed sowing too:
    • plant main crop potatos
    • sow seeds to grow seedlings for planting out in December.
    • direct sow beetroot, carrot and turnips
    • sow autumn flowers and leafy greens – can also be done on the following weekend
  • Set up protection systems for young newly transplanted seedlings: cloches for warmth, netting against the birds, foliar feed for extra nutrients, diatomaceous earth to deal with snails and slugs…
  • Hoe all the newly planted beds so the soil surface doesn’t crust over and young weeds don’t get established.
  • If you have access to a good source of mulch (cacao husks is my favorite), apply some now: make sure the soil is moist, then water while you’re adding thin layer after thin layer of mulch. Otherwise it either blows away or stops the rain from getting through to the roots! Then be extra vigilant in snail/slug patrol at night, as they tend to move in to the mulch and breed there.

To prepare now for next week

  • Check your irrigation system and make sure it’s practical for you – you’ll start using it soon! If you have young fruit trees, how will you water them?
  • If you don’t have comfrey in your carden, try and get hold of some roots to to plant!
  • If you do have comfrey, it has probably sprouted now and the shoots show you where the different roots are. If they’re close together, dig some out to make more space and either transplant to another area where they can spread, or make them root in some potting mix and give away to other gardeners 🙂
  • Source mulch for your tomatos, zuccinis and other bigger plants
  • Get nets and hoops ready for berry beds

My workshop series on how to grow food efficiently on a small surface, “Grow More Veges” runs on Wednesdays from 19th October – still spaces left, so sign up now! You can register for one workshop or the bundle of six, up to you. As always, 2 spots are available for Timebank credits.

Pricking out and planting out

How is your garden looking now? Pretty bare, with young seedlings just establishing? Or still a jungle of last season’s growth? Take it step by step and get new plants protected and well established. Leaving some old and tall plants around can help create a micro-climate the young seedlings appreciate, cutting the wind and the heavy rain. But if your soil needs aerating, take old crops out before you dig, or it will be unnecessarily complicated!

This week is ideal time for repotting, transplanting, pricking out and planting out. On Sunday 9th (rain day 16th) I’m running a FREE 101 Food Growing workshop at workerBe oasis’ Spring Celebration. There will also be stalls to share, swap, buy and sell seedlings, so you can bring some there, or take some home!

This week: First quarter, Sunday 9th October

  • Prick out seedlings you’ve grown from seed as soon as the cotyledons (very first leaves, that don’t look like the “normal” leaves) have opened. Move them to a much deeper (8-12cm) tray at 2-5cm distance depending on the variety. Be sure they have enough light for this whole stage. Leave them in these trays/pots until the leaves start touching each other. By then, they’re sturdy enough to get hardened off and planted outside. It’s really good practice here in Wellington, where weather is so unpredictable in spring!
  • If you’re not growing from seed, buy good quality seedlings to plant out now. All the leafy greens along with celery, peas and beans can go in now. I recommend organic seedlings from Common Property (available at all Commonsense Organics stores) or Oakdale Organics (available at some garden centres). These establish better relationships with the soil life and are therefore better at taking up nutrients.Remember to harden them off slowly, as they have been very well protected until now!
  • Prep the beds: spread 2-5cm of compost and a good quality organic fertiliser (either RokSolid or Nature’s Garden), fork into the top 10cm and rake the surface crumbly and flat, ready to plant or sow.
  • If you need to fill in a lawn, now is a good time to prepare it: mow really low, rake off moss and debris, spread lime and poke holes with a fork to get some air in, then rake again. Best is to use a wire leaf rake, it scratches the surface just right!
  • Plant out onion seedlings 11th October
  • Foliar feed regularly, especially on Thursday 13th (3 days before full moon). Use any of the recipies I shared two weeks ago!
  • Prick out and plant out “leafies” 14-16th: celery, cabbages (kale & cavolo nero too), spinach, lettuce, silver beet…

Prepare now for next week (full moon Sunday 16th October)

  • Buy lawn seeds to sow on prepared areas on the day of the full moon (Sunday 16th).
  • Get trays and potting mix ready to prick out tomatos, eggplants, zuccinis and other fruiting plants Monday 17th and Tuesday 18th.
  • Check your seeds to have enough to direct sow beetroot, carrot, turnips and autumn flowers, and to plant main crop potatos, and to grow seedlings for planting out in November and December.
  • Make sure you have everything to care for the young newly transplanted seedlings: cloches, netting, foliar feed, diatomaceous earth to deal with snails and slugs…
  • Sharpen your hoe and other weeding tools (niwashi…) and keep them sharp! There’s a lot less work to do when you can just quickly go over all the beds and aerate the surface, killing the weeds at seedling stage instead of pulling them out once they are established. But it means doing this weekly over the next months, and keeping the tools sharp is essential!

Hope to see you Sunday at the Spring Celebration, 1-4pm at 5 Hospital rd!

Liquid fertilisers

Stinky, sludgey, murky. And delicious for your plants and the soil life! Liquid fertilisers are easy to make, and cost a fortune to buy (sometimes). This week, Edible Oasis has some “recipes” for you to try out.

The best time to apply liquid fertilisers seem to be before and after full moon, when plants swell with water. Koanga Institute recommend two days before and two days after, and that works fine for me – it might be more like the week before and after, but roughly that’s when I do it.

Always dilute your liquid fertiliser, even if you think “it’s not that strong”! More than once, I’ve been foolhardy enough to put it on undiluted and it has burnt the roots, or mined the carbon, Too much nitrogen in one go will use up the carbon in the soil and the structure collapses afterwards. I’ve seen this happen in pots and raised beds especially.

The only infrastructure you need to set up your own liquid fertiliser station is big buckets or troughs, access to rainwater, and a sieve – an old kitchen one can be converted to garden use.

Seaweed fertiliser

First, bring seaweed home from the beach. Some people worry about salt content, but as far as I’ve seen, it isn’t a problem. But if you can, harvest old stuff from high up the beach rather than fresh or growing ones. A day or two after a storm is ideal for doing this!

Second, put to soak in your big bucket/barrel/trough with rainwater. Make sure they’re completely immersed, sometimes a stone on top can help with that. After a few days to a week, it starts to stink and the texture of the seaweed changes. You can now start using it, after filtering and diluting. Then either add more water as you go and let it brew for longer, or use it all up before the smell becomes overwhelming and put the remains into your compost pile.

Best for anything that has trouble with trace minerals (boron, magnesium, manganese…), and works well on any plant that starts to show signs of fungal attacks. It boosts their immune systems. I have managed to stop mildew from spreading on my peas and zucchinis with this.

Comfrey fertiliser

Harvest big nice comfrey leaves, about 1/4 to 1/3 of the plant. Put it in a container with rainwater as above. Leave until it starts to go soggy, smelly and murky (often shorter than seaweed) and then filter, dilute and use!

Really good on heavy feeders, and the nightshade family responds very well (potato, tomato, eggplant, chilli, capsicum…). Great for newly planted seedlings too, they take off well with this treatment.

“Mixed weeds” fertiliser 🙂

Well, the easiest of them all! If you have noxious/invasive weeds in your garden, don’t put them in the compost (where they will become a perennial problem) but in your fertiliser bucket. Cover with water as above, make sure they’re completely immersed, as the tiniest bit can quickly regrow. Soak it for longer, 2-3 weeks may be enough depending on what weeds you have.

Filter this one very carefully, as seeds and bulbs may still be viable. Depending on the stage of decomposition, you may want to bag and bin the residue, or incorporate into your compost pile if it is all just a smelly mess with nothing solid left at all (i.e. definitely no roots, bulbs etc).

Dilute and use as above – this is my “general” solution, and I always have some as there’s always oxalis, tradescantia, convulvulus and other nasties around. A never-ending supply of nutrient rich ingredients, there for the harvest 😉

Adding carbon

To balance the nutrients, you can add molasses to your brew after filtering. If you do this, filter, add a couple of tablespoons per litre, leave open and stir at least twice a day for a couple of days. This adds oxygen, starts some other bacterial growth (aerobic) and should get on top of the smell as well.

Dilution and application

When your brew is ready, dilute 1:10 with rainwater and either use a watering can to add it to the soil, or put it in a spray bottle (I use a pressure sprayer) and apply to the leaves. I usually put it on the soil if I know it is going to rain, thinking the rain would wash it off the leaves anyway, or if I’m short on time. But foliar application (on the leaves) works much much better for fungal infections and is really efficient in summer when it is warm. Apply in the evening if you can, definitely not in the sun, and preferably not just before a big rain.

Good luck!

Our unreliable spring

Well, so much for our spring feelings, right? This week totally… blew them away, let’s say. I can’t help thinking “if only I had ordered the mikroclima cloth a week before” – yes, having it ten days ago might have saved those early plantings of perpetual spinach and silverbeet down at the oasis from getting pierced by the hail. But better late than never, and I thought I’d let you know my strategies to deal with this fickle season!

First of all, know your site. When does the sun come to warm up the soil? Which areas stay shady for longer? And most important, where does the wind hit? Do you get salt spray, and where? For all the most exposed areas: either just leave them until December (when generally speaking the spring storms have had their time), or mitigate the problem with some of the ideas below. There is no point in spending money, time and effort in planting seedlings which will never make it though the unpredicatable weather (plus snails, slugs and birds…). A good lazy gardener spends time observing and choosing wisely.

For example, part of my back garden just starts to get the sun about now. In all the areas that are shaded, I leave the weeds be over winter – it’s the only thing that grows, and it provides great cover and feeds the soil food web (obviously, I don’t let them seed and I don’t have any perennial weeds there anymore). As the sun reaches the area, I rip the weeds out to build a new compost pile, put well decomposed compost on the beds and cover with tarps. In a month, the soil will be warmed up by the sun and weed free for the season. Having the bed covered with either weeds or a good thick black tarp makes temperature drops and hail much less of an issue during springtime. And for that time, my seedlings thrive in the greenhouse and are big and strudy when I plant out.

If you’ve planted out some spring crops, put up cloches. For the hoops, I use old reinforcement steel bars that I cut to 2.5m and bend to a form that fits my beds. You can buy new ones at a hardware store – 8mm thick – and they last a lifetime. But of course you can use any bendy material! Young bamboo, tent arcs… whatever you find for cheap to reuse. Put them about 1.5m apart and cover with either mikroclima cloth (available at Sustainability Trust I believe), old mesh curtains or transparent plastic. This also protects against the birds who dig up your young plants in search for The Fattest Worm to feed their little ones, as well as warming the soil and speeding plant growth along.

To make sure the plastic tarp or cloche doesn’t fly off in the 120km/h winds, make sure you weigh down the sides really well. You can basically use anything, but what I find works well is to both use bricks (or other heavy material) and also heap up the soil around the sides as to bury the edges of the plastic. That way the wind can’t find a way under the tarp to lift it up.

Towards the end of October, we all want to plant out zuccinis and cucumbers, and that’s ok… but the weather being what it is, it’s a good idea to have them well hardened off and to use individual cloches once they go in the ground. To harden off your seedlings – whether you’ve bought them or grown from seed – put them outside for increasing periods of time each day for a week, and overnight in a sheltered spot for the last few days. When you plant, put a small cloche over each seedling. A 2Lt transparent juice bottle without lid works well. To stop these from blowing off, put a long bamboo stick through the bottle to anchor it to the ground, and heap up soil around the base of the cloche.

Hoping you and your garden will make it trough to warmer days without despairing too much! We have the first peach blossoms at the moment and I’m just hoping they will have the time to be pollinated before they blow off in the next storm… In this post, I’ve shared my tips and tricks – do you have something to add? Please comment below!

…and if you’re wondering what’s happening at workerBe oasis, here’s what’s coming up:

  • Volunteer time on Sundays at 1pm in September, and Saturdays 11-1 from October onwards. Everyone welcome, bring water bottle, gardening clothes and sturdy shoes.
  • A big Spring Celebration October 9th at 1pm (rain date October 16th): Seed & seedling swap, free 101 Food Growing workshop, guided tour, food and music!
  • Workshop series starting again October 19th – see sidebar (bottom of page on smartphones)

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