Category Archives: Newsletters

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!

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Planting winter greens

My hothouse is crowdred with seedlings that are going out this week: beetroot, lettuce, basil, dill… And some younger chard, kale and cavolo nero which will go out in about a month.

A lot of our food plants contain some kind of antinutrient, stopping us and other animals from eating all of it. The family spinach belongs to (chenopodaceae, or more simply, “chenopods”) all contain oxalic acid, which is poisonous in large quantities. The other members of this family is chard, silverbeet and beetroot. Oxalic acid is also present in a lot of other green vegetables, but spinach has a very high concentration and I’d be cautious to use too much of it, like in regular juicing. I recently discovered perennial spinach has much less, so this year I’ll plant this instead. The common varieties keep going to seed for me before I have the time to eat them, so hopefully this will solve two problems at once!

And the weekly to-do-list:

Now until Wednesday 4th:

  • Prick out your little seedlings to bigger pots
  • Plant out any raised or bought seedlings for your winter garden and late crops of zuccini, bush beans, cucumber and basil, lettuces etc.
  • Plan your winter garden
  • Plant out your fist lot of winter greens (silverbeet, perennial spinach, kale, cavil nero, winter lettuce, rocket, coriander…) leaving space for a second and maybe third lot
  • Foliar feed Sunday 1st February

Thursday 5th to Thursday 12th – week of the full moon:

  • Water plenty around full moon when the plants really want to grow
  • Foliar feed again on the 8th
  • Take care of your tomatos and peppers, look for shield bugs and speay with neem if needed
  • Start planting flowering bulbs for winter & spring (especially under fruit trees)
  • Sow roots straight into the garden, like carrots, turnips and swedes

Upcoming workshops:

Already end of January

Maybe you’re back from holidays, discovering a jungle at your doorstep. Or maybe you’ve been here, watering and tending your edibles and start having tomatos ripening. Personnally, I’ve been here but rather enjoying not doing very much in the garden and preferring to sit with a book in the shade! Now, things are getting a little out of hand and I spent yesterday tying up tomatos and pulling out the dying peas, harvesting zuccinis and carrots and beans… This morning, I gave it all a big good foliar feed.

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Whatever your situation, here’s my run down on what’s to be done in the next two weeks.

The moon is new now (again! last post was also on the new moon…) and the first quarter is on Tuesday. So the next few days are still good for sowing fast germinating seeds. If you’ve growing your own brassica over winter, now is a good time to sow cabbages, caulis, broccoli, kale and cavolo nero. Get some bloomsdale spinach and chard and/or silverbeet in the ground too, along with radish and lettuce. My “tree lettuce” is doing amazingly well over summer when all the others go to seed. Now the summer solstice has passed and they don’t bolt so readily, so it’s time to sow them again.

Keep up watering and make sure you water in a way that doesn’t create erosion or compaction, whichever watering system you use. If you only have a standard hose, it’s better to use a watering can with a spreading nozzle than to use the hose, as the drops impact is so hard on the soil that it doesn’t penetrate well.

If you feel you need to weed, make sure the soil is covered afterwards: either leave the weeds on the soil surface*, or cover with mulch**. You can of course put a green crop*** in if you aren’t going to use the space for vegetables within a couple of months – phacelia, buckwheat, oats and mustard all work well this time of year and you can leave them over winter. Only thing is you’ll have to water them more than if you just put on a mulch. Mustard will also work as a catch crop for shield bugs so they don’t go on your tomatos!

From Tuesday 27th, you can start pricking out your tiny seedlings into bigger trays, and plant out the ones that are big enough. If you buy seedlings in the shop, go for organically certified ones which will have a healthy relationship with the soil bacteria and fungi. I like to think this is as important for the plant as our gut flora is for our own digestion and health!

Sunday 1st February is a perfect day for foliar feeding, two days before fullmoon, unless it is raining! I use Vegetative Foliar from Environmental Fertilisers for everything that’s already fruiting and also for the seedlings, and for plants that are close to setting flowers or alrady flowering, I use Reproductive fFoliar (same company). These are available at Commonsense Organics. Otherwise, use any good quality organic foliar fertiliser, or make your own from comfrey, seaweed and/or manure.

Now to Tuesday 27th:

  • Harvest onions and garlic
  • Prepare beds for your winter garden
  • Sow any late crops (or for the greenhouse) of bush beans, courgettes and basil
  • Sow peas, rocket and corinader in the shade, where they’ll get sun in winter
  • Sow seeds in trays for your winter garden: beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chard, endive, kale, lettuce, radish, silverbeet
  • Sow seeds in to the soil: carrot, daikon, spinach, swedes, turnips

Tuesday 27th to Wednesday 4th:

  • Prick out your little seedlings to bigger pots
  • Plant out any raised or bought seedlings for your winter garden and late crops of zuccini, bush beans, cucumber and basil, lettuces etc.
  • Foliar feed Sunday 1st February

Upcoming workshops:


* weeds on the soil surface?!? Yes, not a problem at all unless they are so called noxious weeds. These will regrow fron the tiniest fragment, the most common of these (in Wellington gardens) are convolvulus, wandering willie, some grasses and banana passionfruit. If you put these in a solid plastic bag or bucket with water in the bottom and a tight fitting lid, they should die and you can use the remains in the compost heap about 6 months later. Make sure the plants are entirely under water, you may need to weigh them down with a stone! When you empty the bag/bucket, make sure they are thoroughly rotten. It stinks, but it’s better than sending them to the landfill.

** A mulch is any fluffy organic matter which will keep the harsh sun rays and the violent raindrops off the soil surface. Could be anything from compost through grass clippings, shredded wood or cocoabean husks, depending on what’s easily available to you.

*** Green crops or green manures are any type of plant that will germinate quiclkly and cover the bare soil, while enriching it with the root exudates. Most common ones are available in bags at any garden centre and also at Commonsense Organics. You can also order from King’s Seeds or Koanga Institute. I often let the weeds do this job for me as long as they’re not noxious: saves time, money and my back! Chickweed is a common weed that does this well and is edible on top of it.

Vouchers, dates and what to do

Good news: There are now vouchers available for Edible Oasis workshops! One for $12, or the Grow More Veges series of 6 workshops for $60 – saves you $12.

The workshop dates are set for January and I’m excited by the number of people telling me this is exactly what they’ve been looking for. Posters are printed – if you know a place where there should be one, let me know. Even better: if you want to give me a hand putting them up around town you’ll be rewarded with one of the brand new vouchers!

Gardening tasks for next week: the moon is waning and the last quarter starts on Monday. It’s a time when energy starts to turn downwards, so root growth is strong. This means plants transplanted at this time will root well. Apart from getting your last summer seedlings in the ground, the only thing left before midsummer celebrations is to tidy up and ensure everything is well mulched to keep the moisture in. I keep track of how much it rains by jotting down millimeters and dates on my wall calendar, that way I know when I’ve got to water again.

If you’re growing herbs or medicinal flowers, harvest them on a sunny late morning, when there isn’t any dew left on them. Depending on what properties the particular plant has, you may want to harvest at a certain moon phase as well. St John’s wort is traditionnally harvested mid day on the full moon closest to midsummer solstice, for example.

If you’ve got fruit trees, check if you need to thin the fruit to get the rest to ripen, or support any branches to avoid damage. Feed the trees with seaweed or, even better, Environmental Fertilisers’ “Reproductive Foliar” (available at Commonsense Organics).