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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!

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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!

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:

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).

Seedling overload!

Wow, I’ve been a bit over-enthusiastic this year! Hundreds of seedlings are filling up my hothouse already. I always grow some extras to give away and to plant in the community gardens, but this time I’ve just got too much. So even though the workshops haven’t yet started, get in touch if you want seedlings – they’re germinated in organic seed raising mix and I’ve just pricked them out into organic potting mix with Nature’s Garden from Environmental Fertilisers, which is simply amazing stuff.

Pick up on Friday 3rd, Wednesday 8th or Friday 10th between 12 and 4pm – koha would be appreciated to compensate for the cost and time of growing them (but if you can’t afford that, it’s all right).

Available varieties:
Basil – Genovese
Cress – Upland
Chard – Rainbow
Lettuce – Odell’s
Tomato – Black Cherry, Berao (also called “tree tomato”, grows to 4m high!) and Olirose
Stock – Night Scented

Make sure you follow me on facebook or here on the blog to get updates as the workshops start in a couple of weeks!
 

Spring Storms

The first really strong spring storm is upon us here in Wellington. I’m pricking out my seedlings at the kitchen table – way too cold and wet outside! As I’ve learnt to my expense, no annuals planted out at this time will do very well here: they get battered by the winds, then suddenly enthusiastically growing on a sunny day, just to be blown over again with the next storm.
This is one of the reasons I’ve adopted the Grow Bio-intensive method. It allows me to keep the garden soil covered in mature crops (I grow oats and lupins over winter) until the storms calm down in November. By then, my seedlings are strong and healthy and ready to go out, big enough to avoid slugs, snails, birds and the neighbor’s cat!
The first spring workshops are coming soon – keep an eye on the right hand side bar where you can find the dates and times. I’m looking forwards to share my gardening expereince and my permaculture perspective on it with you all this new growing season!