Category Archives: Notes from my garden

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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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!

Ribes family: Nigrum

Who’s that? Ribes? That’s the currants – blackcurrant, redcurrant, gooseberry, white currant and ornamental currants. I’ve really been enjoying mine this summer and thought I’d share this with you.

Actually, Ribes isn’t a family properly speaking, but it’s the only genus in the family Grossulariaceae, so we might as well treat it as a family as it has an easier name. Ribes Nigrum is the latin name for blackcurrant, which I’ll write about this week.

I’ve got only one bush, which is now pretty much mature after over three years in the ground. At first, I planted it in a sunny and wind-exposed spot: major mistake! Both it and the neighbouring redcurrant suffered and blew over in the first year. So we transplanted them in under a deciduous tree, where it’s damp and semi-shaded, and they are absolutely thriving where no other food plants did.

The whole Ribes family come from the colder temperate climates in the northern hemisphere and are very common through Scotland, Scandinavia, Russia, and eastern Europe. There, they thrive both wild and cultivated in mixed forest ecosystems. They enjoy the semi shade, the moisture, the thick forest floor mulch with lots of mycelium and the low pH (6 is what they prefer!). Here, they really dislike the harsh afternoon summer sun and like to be in the shade all winter, when they drop their leaves and go dormant.

Taking this into account, they’re the perfect hedge or “filler” to the south of the house or under a tree – pine or deciduous. The mature bush is 1.5m wide & high, and takes 3-4 years to reach maturity depending on the size and age of the bush you plant. If it’s a standalone, I’d make sure to have some space all around for harvest access, but for a hedge you can space them 60-120 cm apart.

One single mature bush yields 4-5 kg of tasty sweet berries from December to early February. The berries are extremely rich in vitamin C and was one of the main sources in northern Europe before the import of oranges started. You only need about 50 gr fresh to get the recommended daily intake, so you can easily dry some to use in winter. They dry easily either in a dehydrator or an electric oven set at super low heat (definitely below 70ÂşC). Don’t dry them in the sun as the sun reduces the vitamin C content.

To make the most of a blackcurrant bush, remember they fruit on 1 year old wood. So don’t prune out the tips, but rather cut a certain number of stems at the very base, starting with the thickest and oldest, then the ones that tend to grow out to the sides (horizontally). Always leave 8-10 vertical stems, the first few years you might not have to take out any at all.

When you’ve pruned, you can easily strike the cuttings. I put mine in a jar of rainwater indoors just after pruning, pieces of about 25cm long, leaves stripped off apart from the top 2, with the “root end” 10 cm in the water. If you want to encourage roots even more, you can steep some willow bark in the water. Once you see little roots growing, pot it up in good potting mix, well drained. To help with drainage, you can mix in either some perlite or sand in the potting mix. I also add an inoculant (Environmental Fertilisers’ or Koanga Institute’s or Dalton’s)  to provide the roots with nice bacteria and fungi for symbiosis. After a year or two, these cuttings are ready to be planted out, and in another few years they’re mature bushes!

On top of all the tasty nutritious berries, you can also use the leaves. Fresh or dried as tea they’re really tasty, and are traditionally used for cleansing mouth and throat. Medicinally they have been considered good for tonsillitis and throat ache and used in whooping cough. It is a very gentle and nourishing tea, of course, I’m neither a doctor nor a naturopath and don’t give any kind of medicinal advice here, just letting you know 🙂 Apart from tea, you can use the young leaves in salads and older ones to flavour pickles  cucumbers (cornichons) or fermented vegetables.

The varieties I’ve found available in this country are Magnus and Sefton and a few unnamed ones (may be the same) from smaller nurseries. Many of the diseases found overseas aren’t present here, so don’t worry too muchabout varieties. They are very easy maintenance, just some netting over the fruiting period to protect from birds, some compost and mulch in spring and voilĂ ! Your own

Hope this inspires you to grow a Ribes Nigrum in a semi-shaded spot! If you like my blog, please share it on facebook and invite your friends to follow my page. Thanks 🙂

Workshops are on a hold over winter and will start again 31/7.

Volunteer at workerBe oasis, 5 Hospital rd, Sundays, 1pm.

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Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackcurrant

http://edible.co.nz/fruits.php?fruitid=22_Currant%20-%20Black

http://ediblegarden.nz

 

Autumn cleanup

This week, I’m cleaning up my own messy garden and getting it ready for winter. Some areas don’t get enough sun to grow any food crops for the next few months, and others just need a spruce up and a bit of compost and fertiliser.

I’ve started by going through with my Niwashi (japanese hand toold for weeding and planting) to get rid of any annoying weeds, but leave those that will protect the soil over winter. I also reformed the beds, which makes it look more tidy and helps with drainage – just using the fork to puncture the bed, letting some air in, and then the rake to shape it nice and high. Flatten off the top and add some compost and/or nature’s Garden, and it’s ready to be sown, planted or mulched.

The beds that don’t get any sun over winter, or just a couple of hours a day, will be covered with half decomposed compost and then a layer of mulch. Mulch is any fluffy material which will break down over time. I often use cacao husks if I can get hold of them.  Where there’s some sun but not enough for food crops, I broadcast sow calendula, borage, phacelia, clover, oats or whatever I happen to have seeds for and which will grow in low temperatures. These are my cover crops and will end up in my spring compost piles.

Anywhere there’s enough sun for food crops, I plant out well grown seedlings of winter hardy and easy care vegetables: kale, collards, silverbeet, perpetual spinach or rainbow chard. I also pop in a few lettuces, but I eat less salads in winter so I’m only planting what I’ll actually eat. Under and between these bigger veges, I broadcast sow radishes and baby leaf lettuce (Green Salad Bowl is the variety I use) to cover the soil and make the most of the space. By the time the kale or beet is mature, I’ve already eaten the radishes.

These beds will need very consistent liquid feed over winter. Make sure the product you use contains good quantities of potassium, phosphorus, calcium and magnesium, the core nutrients for photosynthesis, so that the plants can make maximum use of the low sun over winter. Use it well diluted once a week on all your food plants – I personally don’t worry about the cover crops.

All my perennials get bedded down now. Plenty of mulch, but I don’t put any compost down now as it’s had a tendency to make them grow now instead of in spring. In another month or two when they go dormant I’ll prune them. As the buds swell in spring I’ll move the remaining mulch away and feed with good compost.

Last year, at this time, I moved some spring bulbs around and it’s a good time to do that now. It’s also time to plant new ones for some beauty and colour in spring. Talking about bulbs, prepare your garlic bed now with plenty of compost so you have time to weed them before planting the garlic cloves! I won’t do any this year, for lack of space, so I almost forgot to mention it!

Next workshop is Edible Oasis Maintenance – remember to register in time!

Dark moon, December

Hi lovely reader. You. Thanks for following, for reading, for sometimes commenting. It makes it worthwhile to maintain this, spending a couple of hours a week to gather my thoughts and write something up, and edit to make it all readable. I know, it doesn’t happen every week, sometimes there’s just too much going on. But my aim is to get a little something to you, every Monday or Tuesday, about what’s happening in my Oasis, workerBe Oasis, and what you might want to do in your own Oasis… hoping these notes finds you well. And if we haven’t met yet, I’m looking forwards to meet you and have a good garden talk some day!

Last week, I just had to stop. I was listening to Formidable Vegetable Soundsystem, who’s cd is called “Permaculture – A Rhymer’s Manual and has 12 songs corresponding to the 12 permaculture design principles. The first one is “Look Around – Observe and Interact”:
IMG_0840

“Before you intervene

don’t do anything

Come to all your senses

They’ll tell you everything…

…All you have to do is stop

and take a look around”

Ahhhh… I know this. You know this. We all know this but sometimes it just gets lost in all of our Busy Doing. Which seem so much more important. But sitting in the garden, looking at the flowers, the swelling strawberries, currants and raspberries, tasting the broadbeans… this is where I learn. Feeling, sniffing the soil. Is it soft? Moist? How many and which critters can I see? Which trees and bushes does the wind ruffle? Just sitting, observing, without any judgement on things, whether it’s good or bad, just taking note. Bliss. And so, so, SO useful.

This is why I’m starting my garden journal again. Not so much for the purpose of knowing what I sow where and how it grows, as for the simple pleasure of sitting and observing every single day. Another kind of meditation, maybe? With its own sort of poetry…

“Rain 14mm.

Really windy, peach tree swaying

Lots of bumble bees in borage, fewer honeybees

First runner bean 1.5m tall.

A whole bowl of strawberries, 5 raspberries, currants taking colour

Hydrangea stating to open, Feijoa in flower, Rose still has aphids, Sweet williams self seeding.

Many borage seedlings. Tomato seedlings in among the strawberries…

Mulch is thin, birds using it for nesting.

Cats and birds drink in the watering trough.”

Noting when plants start to flower helps keeping track of the seasons and knowing whether the seasons come early or late. Noting rain and wind helps knowing when to water and how much. But just simply Being Present in the garden, I think this is the most revolutionary. What can I NOT do? What is nature doing for me – what’s already happening? The dominant culture conditions us to fix things, be active, do stuff all the time.

Sitting and listening can feel uncomfortable at first. But soon I feel that the garden embraces me, when I stop looking for faults and judge myself and the garden for not doing enough. Nature holds us humans. We’re part of it, weeds and bees and food and wind. All together, each bit being just what it should be.

In the Oasis this week:

  • sit
  • listen
  • enjoy
  • graze
  • dream

And if you feel like it and your garden seem to want it, all the usual things of sowing, planting, mulching, watering. You know the drill now if you’ve followed EdibleOasis for a while. So take a break and see what you don’t need to do.

Workshop Thursday 10/12, 6.30pm: Garden in Time & Space. Your fresh observations will come in handy!

Dark Moon

What’s up this week:

  • I’ll be at the Hospital rd Oasis tomorrow Tuesday 9-11am, and Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 4-6pm
  • The second Volunteer Introduction is Wednesday 5.30pm for those who didn’t brave the southerly gales and icy rain last Wednesday
  • Next workshop is Thursday 12th, Sow Seeds, 6.30pm at my place.
  • Next week, I’ll be at the Hospital rd Oasis same hours, and the workshop on Thursday 19th will be Perfect Compost 6.30pm at my place.

On Thursday, the Moon will be new again. But what does the different phases actually mean? There are three different movements: the waxing and waning, how high it is in the sky, and how close it is to Earth. Bio-intensive systems are most preoccupied with the waxing and waning, but as I grow tuned to these phases I realise there’s much more to the Moon’s influence on all living things.

Being alive on Earth means to contain water. And this water is easily influenced by the Moon’s gravity, with an easier upwards movement when the moon is closer to the Earth. The most obvious sign of this is of course the tides in the oceans, but there are actually tides in the fertile humus layer of the continents as well.

For plants, the photosynthesis seem to be quite influenced by the Moon’s luminosity (waxing and waning), and of course where it is in the sky. Some nights it doesn’t rise at all, and thus have little influence. Somenights, when the Moon is full and up from dusk to dawn, I find it really hard to sleep as it is so light. I think such nights are made for parties 🙂 !

Up until now, I’ve basically been repeating what different gardening books and publications say, combined with my own best knowledge and judgement. A short while ago, I started to be really attentive to when the Moon actually rises and sets, how high it is, what phase it is in and the sensations I have personnally and what I perceive in the garden. To help myself (and you, hopefully) with this, I use a moon calendar which shows just these three patterns. It doesn’t tell which constellation the Moon is in, as for biodynamics, but it helps me connect with the patterns that i actually do see and connect with.

So, this week:

  • Today, Monday 9th, the Moon is as its farthest from Earth (for this cycle). It will be less and less illuminated for the next three days, and is already at a scant 7.2%. It rose at 4.44am this morning, and will set at 5.39pm in the west, so it won’t put any light in our gardens at night.
  • Tomorrow, Tuesday 10th, it is a little bit closer (thus bigger, from our point of view), and less illuminated. It will rise again 5.13am in the east, set 6.35pm in the west.
  • Wednesday 11th, it’s rising 5.45am and setting 7.33pm, and it’s showing as a thin, thin sliver, just before darkening completely.
  • Thursday morning at 6.47am (just after it rises at 6.19am) it turns around and starts brightening up again. It’s already much closer to us as well, compared to Monday. If it’s clear, it will show on the west-soutwest horizon when it sets at 8.30pm (or earlier, depending on how high or low you are in relation to the horizon).
  • Friday, it rises after the sun in the morning and sets 9.26pm, so you have another chance at greeting it 🙂 .
  • Saturday, it sets even later (10.21pm), and is back at almost the same luminosity as today.
  • Sunday 15th, the Moon is well into its light (11.3%) and will be easy to spot in the evening as it sets in the west-southwest at 11.13pm.

What does this mean in terms of gardening? Maybe nothing, maybe something ; in any case it has been a way for gardeners through the ages to calculate when to sow, transplant and look out for diseases. Common gardener knowledge is that fungal disease strike hardest when the Moon is full and the sap is high, which for me sounds like the closest point between Moon and Earth (making higher tides). To prepare for this event, which would be the days between 21-27th, we should start feeding the plants with micronutrients now and avoid heavy nitrogen food the week before. So out with the seaweed and comfrey brews now for weekly sprays!

Support your plants through this week of weak lunar influence. They might not look like they’re growing so much, observe… Sow seeds of zuccini, beans, carrot, beetroot, spring onions and leafy greens on Tuesday so they absorb water and are ready to germinate when the Moon starts to move closer again, pulling stronger on the growth and the tides. Hopefully they’ll poke through on the weekend and benefit from the increased light as the Moon is up more and more at night.

Of course, these are just my experimentations with a life more in tune with these harmonies. If it speaks to you, feel free to use the tools and if you already have some experience in this I’d love to have your feedback below!

First Quarter Moon, October

Whoosh! That’s the sound of spring for me. Not just the speed at which growth suddenly bursts forth, but also the wind. Oh the welly winds… Luckily, my little haven is well protected but my previous garden really wasn’t and I feel for all who have a windy garden.

Wind breaks is essential, both using traditional windbreaking cloth from hardware stores and using plants. If you have enough space to plant a proper shelterbelt, I highly recommend it. If you’ve got a tiny wee vege patch, put up little shelters around your plants. Transparent plastic with good stakes deep in the ground is a good solution, like a little bent wall facing the wind. Pull up some soil around the base of it and lean it slightly over the plant so the wind doesn’t uproot your little shelter.

IMG_0677

With a few gardener friends, we meet up every so often and do a job in one of our gardens. This Sunday, they all came to my place and we finally did the transplanting of my strawberries which was so overdue. All alone it felt like a too big task: dig up the strawberries, double dig the new bed, sieve compost, put on wormcastings and compost and fertiliser, rake, plant out, mulch… I don’t have a full day to do that! But with my friends it all got done and on top of it we got to catch up, drink tea and eat chocolate. And they helped me with plenty other little things as well which we hadn’t even planned! It’s such a good way to share ideas and get feedback on the weeds, pests and other unknowns in the garden, I really think we all should have our own “gardener pod”.

Gardening friends

So, what’s next? This week, the moon comes into its first quarter on Wednesday. It’s still good to sow seeds for short-germinating plants until then, but after you better stick to feeding plants and managing pests. Leaves grow faster and roots slower in this phase so there’s a higher risk for sap-suckers if the plant’s don’t have all the nutrients they need to build sturdy tissues.

  • Feed all leafy plants with seaweed liquid or ‘Vegetative Foliar” from Environmental Fertilisers.
  • Feed the ones that have started budding, flowering or fruiting with ‘Reproductive Foliar’ (same brand)
  • Keep weeds down with the niwashi and reapply mulch where planted out
  • Prick out seedlings that have come up
  • In the evening, spray neem dilution on anything that’s got aphids (in my case that’s basically the whole hothouse, the mandarin, the orange and the roses… that’s what you get when you don’t repot in time and you leave the country for a couple of weeks!)
  • Keep soil moist and nice, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to rain this week either (Check by opening with a hand trowel and check with your fingers. It should be nice and humid all the way.)
  • Keep an eye on the leafy growth of stone fruit, look for signs of curly leaf and take off and burn/trash affected leaves

There you go! Make sure you follow WorkerBe Oasis facebook page to stay in the loop with the urban farm. I’ll be running my workshops there soon, we’re working on the schedule right now.

Have a nice week and enjoy the sun 🙂 !