No Rest for Gardeners! – The Truth About Growing All That Food

 

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The uninitiated – that is, non-gardening friends – often say things to me that make me giggle. Things like, “you must be glad it’s autumn, you won’t have to be in the garden so much”. It got me thinking though that my busiest times are usually spring and autumn, preparing for the frenzy of summer and the hard graft of winter, when I’m more inclined to do heavy building work to keep warm, while trying to grow winter food. I feel there’s always things that should be done no matter the season and, dealing with a physical disability, things that I have to take a long view on completing.

One such job has been The Corner of Shame. I think every largish garden has one, that back corner, usually furthest away from the house, that gets overgrown and forgotten about because there’s so many other things that take your time and attention before you can walk that far! Well, after months (literally) of chipping away at it, my Corner of Shame is no more!

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The picture above shows the now Corner of Care that was started as a long term project by two of us in November last year. I had to get a second load of pine bark to finish top dressing around the plum tree and opted this time for the fresh rather than the composted, darker mulch. Also, I’ve planted an English Lavender (in the bottom right corner of the photo) and started pruning the plum tree. The netted area is half a huge bed that I left fallow for a season and built up with compost from the chicken coop, spent straw from rabbit hutches and a few good handfuls of dolomite.

Last weekend I planted leeks, silverbeet (chard), celery and some bunching broccoli in there and this weekend I finished it off with garlic. Next weekend, I’ll be doing a similar netting job on the other side but I’ll be waiting for a few more weeks for the next round of seedlings to be big enough to plant out.

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The two nursery trays above (ten punnets of winter vegetables and ten of onion varieties) were planted on March 8th, only six days ago. This morning, nine of the winter vegetables were up and big enough to handle and six punnets of the onions. Hopefully, I’ll get some time during the week to prick some of the kale, savoy cabbage and endive seedlings into toilet roll grow tubes and get them ready for planting out across five beds before the soil starts cooling off!

The other long term project I’ve brought to a close in the last few weeks has indeed been a labour of love. My all-time favourite vegetable is asparagus and at the beginning of spring, I took the plunge and planted some seed rather than wait until winter and buy (in my opinion) very expensive crowns. Asparagus seed is notoriously difficult and has a very short shelf life but either I chose well or got lucky – probably a little of both!

I ended up with 51 asparagus seedlings!!!

So, a dedicated bed had to be found, dug over, built up and dressed with sea grass – and quickly! I decided to use the bed that had garlic in last year and started the preparation in November, almost as soon as I’d lifted the huge heads. Digging is something I generally avoid these days because of my spine and arthritis unless it’s absolutely necessary – and this was necessary! It took up until the end of December to dig the previous mulch in, feed with copious amounts of sheep poo and mushroom compost, throw some dolomite over it and dig it over again. Then I covered it all with some sea grass I gratefully accepted from extended family who want to be paid in asparagus – long term investors! Then I left it to settle and every time I watered the garden, I spent some time watering the sea grass to remove the excess salt and stop the bed drying out completely. This is what it looked like after the sea grass mulch –

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In the meantime, I spent quite a bit of time teasing out the little seedlings into individual grow tubes as you can see from the picture below.

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Finally, a seriously diseased cherry tree had to be taken out from behind the bed before I could plant my babies out. Thanks to my wonderful son and other family members, I had some help with this and didn’t do anything my doctor wouldn’t approve of!

And then, at last I started planting these precious little seedlings out. It took me a few weeks to get it all done but they’re doing well – all 51 of them!!! At the moment they’re very tightly planted but as the crowns grow I’ll take over the rest of the bed and give them more space to grow. Asparagus is dioecious – it has male and female plants – and I’ll be removing most of the female plants as I work out who’s who. Male plants don’t have to expend resources to produce fruit, so can crop up to three times more than a female plant.

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Now all I have to do is top dress with more sea grass, manure and spent rabbit straw at the end of this winter and the next. If I’m lucky and careful, I should be able to take one spear from each that spring and by 2018 have my first crop. Asparagus will produce good crops for around 20 years. It will be worth it 😀

What’s your favourite vegetable and how do you like to eat it? Please leave a comment – I love to hear your stories! 

 

Friday at Last! – Day 6 NaBloPoMo 2015

Well, it’s finally the end of the week, and I’m bushed! I was supposed to go to a gig tonight some friends are playing but I’m just too tired. Tomorrow, I’ll be out in the garden again and cooking a family dinner – my son’s coming over.

One of my jobs tomorrow is dealing with some of the seedlings I’ve grown in the last month. I love sitting in my greenhouse, listening to music or audio books while I work. It’s very relaxing.

With small seeds, such as chillies, herbs, salad greens and any brassicas (cabbage family, such as kale, broccoli and mustard greens) I use a three stage process.

First, I plant the seeds in punnets, keep them moist in the greenhouse and wait for the magic of new plants to happen. It’s silly but even after all these years I still get a thrill when I see new plants starting 🙂

New vegetables!

New vegetables!

Secondly, I prick them out from the punnets into cardboard toilet rolls and let them grow on in the greenhouse until the roots are showing, which encourages downward root growth and eliminates transplant shock – one of the biggest killers of young seedlings. I didn’t realise until recently that this isn’t common knowledge! I cut the rolls in half first, which makes a perfect size for me and it doubles the number of  mini grow tubes I have for the season. I’ve found that plastic trays from my few supermarket purchases are great to put the completed seedling tubes in, making them safe to carry around the greenhouse and the yard.

All recycled and ready to go!

All recycled and ready to go!

The cardboard is just the right thickness to take up and hold moisture without falling apart immediately and I use a fairly compost-rich potting mix that holds together reasonably well. Like a lot of repetitive jobs, there’s a rhythm I get into when doing this. Perhaps it’s the musician taking over but I find this really relaxing. It takes practice when doing small, delicate seedlings but the best tip I can offer is go slowly – there’s no rush. Also, keep a permanent marker handy and I recommend marking the plant name and date on at least one if you’re doing a tray of the same thing. I also keep a garden journal next to me and write down what I’ve done in case something happens to obscure my one labelled tube.

Shungiku - Garland Chrysanthemum just done

Shungiku – Garland Chrysanthemum just done

A few days before I want to plant them, I take the trays of rolls out and let them harden off under a tree. The final stage is planting the seedlings still in their roll in the garden bed.

With big seeds like corn, beans, peas, pumpkins and zucchini I mark the first roll and loosely pack however many I need in a tray. Then I use a pencil or stick as a dibbler and put the seeds in and cover them. The snow peas and beans in the photograph below will give you some idea of the wonderful root growth and size of the plants.

Ready to go in the ground

Ready to go in the ground

These have been out hardening off since Tuesday and will be in the ground tomorrow 🙂

In the meantime, wherever you are, have a wonderful weekend and take care ❤