Tag Archives: Garden

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!


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!

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.

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)


Matariki sharing

As you may notice, this time of year, the posts don’t come as regularly. I’ve got a lot on my plate, so this week I’m going to send you on to Kath Irvine, up the coast. She runs Edible Backyard, very similar to what I’m doing – workshops, permaculture design consults and a blog – but is more focused on bigger sections and lifestyle blocks, while I’m much more urban / suburban focused and love the challenge of bringing edibles into tiny spaces.

What I really appreciate in permaculture circles is that most people understand how complementary we are in our different skills. Just like in nature, we’re finding the niche in our environment that needs us, and ideally which brings us what we need too! So I hope you’ll enjoy Kath’s blog as much as I do, and go to her workshops – they are really worthwhile, and as I said, complemetary to mine. She has also written a great calendar which works for Wellington as well, available at Commonsense Organics.

Right now is the time to take care of your fruit trees, if you’re lucky enough to have space for some. That’s why I’m sending you on to Edible Backyard’s Fruit tree to-do-list for June, and wish you a marvellous Matariki. Enjoy family, friends, the stars, and stay warm and snug inside this long weekend!

P.S. If you’re looking to buy trees, I recommend Neville Chun who sells trees he grows in Lower Hutt. Locally adapted and not a huuuuuuge nursery which means he can take good care of each and every tree. He sells here on TradeMe.