Tag Archives: summer

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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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.

 

Summer garden

Summer – bountiful harvests, bolting lettuces and dry, dry winds! I’m mostly at the Oasis on Hospital rd these days, with very little attention going into my own backyard edible oasis. I water pretty much every two days, using a hand-held hose so I can direct the water where I want it and give different plants the right amounts. For such a big area, 130m2 now and soon we’ll have 400m2 in production, this isn’t very time efficient though. So I’m looking at installing a full drip irrigation system, which is expensive but woul dbe a great timesaver. I’ll let you know how that goes!

Every summer there are water restrictions here in Wellington for the duration of Daylight Savings. The City Council has decided that “you can only use one watering system at a time (sprinkler, irrigation system, soaker hose or unattended hose) between 6am-8am and 7pm-9pm on alternate days. People living in even-numbered properties can water on even-numbered days and vice versa. You are able to use a hand-held hose at any time during these months except when water supplies are very low and more stringent restrictions are in place.”

To help the garden cope with dry conditions and water restrictions, it is important to increase organic matter in the soil well in advance. Organic matter holds on to the water and makes it available to the plants slowly, as they need it. You can add organic matter via compost, applying little and often and incorporating it to the top 10 cm. Or via bookish, the anaerobic composting system in buckets, which is then dug into the ground to a depth of 20 cm or more. And of course via mulch, a layer of fluffy organic matter on the surface of the soil. I use all these methods and find that after three years of this treatment, my garden copes better and better with dry conditions.

Another factor here is wind. The dry northwesterlies are especially bad this year with the strong El Niño. The wind dries out the plants and makes them pump water at a faster rate, it also dries out the soil surface. This means that it is extra important to keep the moisture in the soil, especially using mulch… but very often, the mulch blows away! I’ve found the best solution to be bulky mulch such as seaweed works well. Or cacao husks, if you put them down in thin layers and water between each layer, they tend to stick together and stay in place. Always remember to water the soil thoroughly before applying mulch.

My friend Sarah who lives in Melrose has had great results with mikroclimatunnels, both to keep the plants from blowing over and to keep moisture in. I think this is a great idea for smaller gardens or especially exposed beds. The tunnels are available from Sustainability Trust..

Enjoy your summer garden! Tomatos and basil, zuccini and beans should all be ready to eat now. To learn how to make the best compost to incorporate that organic matter into your soil to hold water, come to the workshop on Thursday: Perfect Compost starts at 6pm 29/1, at workerBe Oasis 5 Hospital rd. Sign up below!