Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Bottling Beets!

It may be a thing of the past as my hubby keeps reminding me - but if you want to be self sufficient you need to do the enevitable: Bottling & preserving. It's one of those things that I can remember my grandmother doing - but never bothered to learn. Now its up to google & youtube to teach me!

My beets grew FANTASTICALLY! Yesterday my daughter and I harvested 30 massive beets the size of my hand! I mistakenly (on purpose!) planted these out all at once & so there was no option but to bottle them. Its actually a good thing really as it means I only had to turn my kitchen 'red' with all the juice once!

The potion that I used as the bottling liquid was POTENT. It definatly cleared the sinuses while I boiled it, so I'm really hopeful that its not going to make the beetroot taste terrible! Had salt, tumeric, celery seeds & mustard seeds in it with a whole lot of sugar & malt vinegar added to the brew.  

Bottled Beets!
The finished product was 4 large jars of beets. I still have a few in the garden. But If we don't all die from botulism I think I'll need to plant more next time to last us over the whole year.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Crunchy munchy salads!

Just look at this lettuce! Dosen't it look fantasticly tasty?! The lettuce's are growing well & producing the BEST mesculin lettuce! Its so crispy and fresh! Nothing like the packet lettuce you get in the shops! We're getting fresh salads every day now!

Too add to the salads I've had large radishes & even sweet peas from the garden! Fantastic! The tomato plants are flowering now & I can't wait to add them!!

Much to hubby's green-phobia its HUGE salads for us each night!!! LOVING IT! :)

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

DIY Herb Shelf!

Herbs! I've love the idea of having a full garden filled with every different herb - both culinary & medicinal. But realistically there just isn't the room to have such a plot in the city! I tried growing a few intermingled with the flowers at our last house. But realistically they didn't look right where I put them and I either forgot about them or the died! 

This year, I've decided the way to go is pots! The previous owner has left some rubble around the property  so I've managed to recycle the building blocks & pieces of wood to make the shelves. So, after doing a bit of DIY'ing here is my make-shift herb shelves! They sit in between two windows alongside the house. Its made it much easier to grab some herbs to add to dinner too!

The blocks were REALLY ugly - but beggars can't be choosers! Especially when you don't have a heap of space to use! So I've filled them with potting mix & planted out some marigolds in them - even in the smaller ones on their sides! Practicality of watering these side-ways plants is a bit on the harder side.... but it spruces them up! To my surprise they are all growing too!

So what have I used? I've put lettuce on the top & have some more waiting to be transplanted for the right hand side. A mixture of basil, mint & parsley make up the rest of the pots with a couple of random orchids to enjoy the sunny spot!

In a larger pot  next to the shelves I have coriander, oregano, thyme & flat leaved parsley. 

I also plan to put a small rose climber on the trellis in the middle just to add something beautiful to a somewhat ugly shelf!

The rest of the shelf space is awaiting some new & unusuals! I have some lemon balm seeds & I think I might try some medicinal herbs too.

I've been told that mint is best grown in a pot since it spreads everywhere, but I've never had luck with this - its always straggly & doesn't live to give me much harvest. I'm having the same problem this year with it - it just isn't happy in a pot! But it dosen't have much choice! So it may be a mintless summer!

After this project I've discovered you can do anything with junk! Even random concrete blocks! haha! I have a feeling there will be a gradual increase in pots & decrease in paths soon!!

Friday, 16 November 2012

All Things Tomato!

Tomatoes are one of my favourite things to eat in a salad! I love them raw but they are such a versatile vege - you can almost eat them in every meal.

Big Beefy Tomato
My plan for tomatoes this year is to have such a wonderful crop that I'll have so many left over to preserve for the rest of the year! I have staggered the planting out a bit so I'll hopefully have an endless supply over summer too. I chose 'beefeater' and 'cherry sweet 100' as my types this year. There wasn't much thought into my selection. I love cherry tomatoes & my kids love eating them, and the beefeaters just looked really.... beefy! I've planted out 14 plants over the course of the last 6 weeks. The original plants are about a foot high now & I just put out the last seedlings yesterday.

Tomatoes can be grown pretty much anywhere... the main garden, a pot, hanging baskets even upside down! So everyone can have one no matter the size of their garden!

What I did learn was there are two types of tomatoes - indeterminate and determinate. Indeterminate tomato plants are vines. They will grow and produce fruit until the first frost appears and can grow up to 3 meters high, although around 2 meters is about the average. They require substantial staking and support. Determinate are bush tomatoes and only grow to about a meter high. They stop growing once there is fruit on the terminal shoot (the top of the plant), ripen all their fruit at the same time and then die. If you prune these, you wont get much fruit! They do better than vine tomatoes in containers.

What I did get confused about last year with my tomato plants is the pruning. When people told me to prune the laterals... I tended to prune off most of the branches! So they were quite tall & lanky. This year I've looked at many Youtube videos on how to do it & found some good diagrams which have given me a much better idea about things. The pruning is important in square foot gardening as there are more plants in one area, so I need to protect them from getting too overcrowded which would make them prone to disease.

There are some basic pruning things you need to do;

Lateral at 45 degree angle
1. Prune the Laterals. The laterals grow in between a branch & the main stem on a 45degree angle (see real picture & diagram below). To get rid of these it is better you pinch them out or break them off. This prevents disease spread which can happen using pruning shears. The basic reasoning is for the tomato plant to use its energy into producing fruit rather than branches/foliage.

Laterals diagram

2. Remove dead or diseased leaves. Some of the lower branches leaves will yellow when the plant reaches maturity, which is natural. Other times you may have a disease or bug ridden branch. To protect the rest of the vine it's important to get rid of the diseased parts of the plant.

3. Tie them Up! Tomatoes are a vine & need to be tied up at regular intervals to grow a healthy tall stem & to support the weight of the fruit.

Removing the branches 
below the first fruit Cluster diagram
4. Take a step back Take a look at the tomato plant as a whole. There should be one stem with branches coming off them. Often you will see a second lateral that's grown up from the base or branch that you've missed. You can see this in the  laterals diagram (its marked with an 'X').

5. Remove the branches from below the first fruit cluster. This makes the vine into a single stem & focuses all the nutrients and energy on the fruit. You need to wait until there are 4-5 fruiting trusses/clusters on the plant before doing this.

6. Top the vine. Towards the end of the season (about a month before the first frost) you remove the plants terminal shoot. This is because at this point, the fruit needs all the help it can get to reach maturity before the end of the season. Often people will do this because the tomato plant has hit the top of the greenhouse roof! The terminal shoot is the top part of the stem. You prune it back to the next branches (like you would a lateral, but the shoot is going straight up, not at an angle).

Pruning the terminal shoot

There are specific tomato fertilisers that you can buy & use. A high nitrogen fertiliser will get the plant off to a good start. Once it starts to fruit a fertiliser high in phosphorous & medium-high in potassium will boost your fruit along (See fertiliser blog for more information on this). I personally haven't used a specific tomato fertiliser. I've stuck with what I have which is the worm tea & I plan on giving all my vegetables a dose of Thrive liquid fertiliser this week to give them all a boost.

I also learnt that basil planted with tomatoes can enhance flavour and repel bugs! So I've planted basil in between the tomatoes and around the edges of the garden bed.

I can see that my early planted tomatoes have their first yellow flowers appearing! Wont be long before that fresh out of the garden salad will be here!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


Help! Its killed my cabbages, it's starting on my cucumbers, zuchinnis & pumpkin!

What is it?! The best guess that I have is downy mildew...... but there is nothing fuzzy underneath the leaves! Anyone out there know what this evil burnt looking problem is??

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Berry Berry Nice!

I LOVE BERRIES! So I therefore believe that you can never have enough of them! Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries! Bring them on!

In my garden I have a big half wine barrel (pic left) which has a thorn-less raspberry & a blackberry, guarded by a vigilant pukeko! I also have 2 strips of retaining wall that I've made into berry patches around the courtyard. One is a strawberry patch which has about 10 plants in it. The other has a couple of small blueberries & a Goji Berry.

Goji berries if you've never heard of them are the latest power berry. They orignate from China, Tibet & India & are supposed to be wonderful for your health. They are also supposed to be hardy plants & survive the toughest conditions (perfect for my garden!). I haven't seen a berry yet - but this is the year I'm sure! :)

So in my opinion I defiantly DON'T HAVE ENOUGH BERRIES! The problem with berry bushes is that you only get a few at a time - only enough for a short snack! :)

Goji Berry

I really need a berry orchard!

I do love the flowers on the plants & love the rambling bushes that they turn into. I'm sure you can interweave the berry ramblers through a rose on an archway or get a bit creative with them! Plus they are just all small bundles of goodness for you!

I do have berry nasty (haha) memories when I was young - where the thorns would slice you & the berries would be as sour as anything! But I think a bit of modifying on behalf of some horticulture genius means you can get plants without thorns on them now.

Some of the berry plants are a bit tempermental - like blueberries! I'm sure everyone I know who's had a plant has had it just up & die for no reason. Others like raspberries spread & put runners out & are theoretically quite resilient!

One of the major problems to berries are trying to protect the fruit!

* Birds: Those greedy things want our precious berries & are way too clever, finding ingenious ways to break through nets & barriers alike! The only preventative as far as i know is netting & lots of it!
* Rotting: Plants like strawberries that sit on the ground rot when touching the dirt & need straw or mulch to protect them. I think root rot during winter is another problem with them.
* Common diseases: like powdery mildew, rust etc.

So here are my beds as they stand. 
My plan: To prevent those nasty birds major structures are to be constructed!

Strawberry patch

I had leftover bamboo from my trellis projects which has come in handy! I found some cheap bird netting & it sticks relatively well to the bamboo! I did try to get it to bend around over the beds in a semi-circle, but it just broke, even though it was green bamboo! So this is the next best option! To make it tight to the ground I just pegged it in with some smaller pieces of bamboo like stakes. I didn't end up doing one over the wine barrel, as last year I never had any issues with 'things' eating those berries! Maybe they are just a bit too tang for the average bug! :)

Pity that its not going to stop the pests or the ant colony that's decided my strawberries are theirs for the eating! 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Spoon Art!

A bit more art for the week! 

I finally finished some of the spoon labels for the garden! Don't they look great!?
I got the spoons from the Salvation Army for cheap & the kids helped me paint them. 
They look great in the garden! Great to finally know what the plants are! Haha! :)

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


I thought it was a weed - but NO! On closer inspection it is;


But it IS ASPARAGUS!!!!! I'm so thrilled!

There is one sprout on each crown I planted except one! There is also one that has turned into a 'fern' already which you can 'just' see in the photo below! They are so thin & small I have no temptation to pick them! It would be like eating a toothpick! haha. Such a relief as I was worried that they wouldn't come to anything! :)


Monday, 22 October 2012

Getting a bit arty in the garden!

My friend had a stack of bamboo that she generously gave me & so I decided to make my own trellis! Its amazing how hard weaving bamboo actually is. Note to anyone planning to do this: Don't use dead/dry bamboo - it will break! 

Also something I never expected was the thousands of tiny, tiny splinters covering my hands from the weaving! Who knew that Bamboo would give you splinters?!

Side on view 

But it's a standing success & looks very 'rustic'! I made a gigantic one for my beans & peas consisting of two trellises tilted against each other. I crossed the tops over each other & tied them so they wouldn't fall apart or tip over. I also made a couple of smaller ones for my zuchinni & cucumber plants. I'm hoping to try and train them up the trellis rather than over the ground, just to maximise on space & help air circulation to prevent diseases. I hate fungal diseases & anything that will help is worth a shot!

Having the bamboo in the garden makes it so much better to look at! Gives it depth and makes the garden come to life rather than the barren soil that it is! :)

However there are signs of life aside from the gigantic spuds! I've planted out my zuchinni, pumpkin, squash & a few more beans today. Some of my beans got broken in the high winds last weekend - I just hope the stalks that remain will re-grow. I've nearly gone through all of my climbing beans packet. With square foot gardens you can plant 8 in a square & I've allowed for about 15 squares including dwarf bean plants too. I know this sounds excessive, but we eat a lot of beans & I want to be able to get my stocks up for over winter. So I think I might have to get some more to fully fill my plot! They seem to only need a week to germinate in the greenhouse now the weather is warmer.

Smaller trellis with Zuchinni seedlings

There is still lots of space in the garden beds though for more veges!! It's so therapeutic getting out in the garden! Especially after all this horrible weather!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Growing them spuds!

Potatoes with the dirt covering the shoots
Potatoes - one of those 'really cool' vegetables that I've always wanted to serve up to visitors & gloat that I grew them! 

I bought the seed packet in one of those spur of the moment "that would be cool!" shopping trips & didn't think to check what type it was or anything about them! I followed the directions on the back of the packet & then decided to research them a bit more to figure out what to do with them! Well.... oops.

So, my potatoes COULD be early, they COULD be main crop. They COULD be red. They COULD be normal. They COULD be a lot of different things & I guess it all adds to the wonderful surprise I'm going to get when I dig them up! I didn't let them sit for a week in the sun to let their 'eye' or 'sprout' grow. I just plonked them in! But they seem to be growing well.... in my opinion anyway!

Original size
So I read a bit about how to push the dirt up when they get to about 10-20cm high, then cover them in dirt till only 5cm of plant is showing. Let them grow again & repeat the process. Most of the sites generally say to do this until the pile is about 20-30cm high. 

I've done that once so far, before I ran out of dirt & compost to use, until I came back from holiday this weekend to find them over a foot high! So, because this is all experimental anyway - I covered them in as much dirt as I could find about the place. They are still sticking out of the ground about a foot, but the dirt pile is around 25cms now. I covered leaves & all! Whether that's right or wrong or in between - I guess I'll find out at the end.

Learning Point: I planted the seed potatoes at the level of my garden bed. With all the piling of dirt you need to do I'm now at the limit of my raised garden beds. Next time I plan to actually dig further down, so I can pile higher & not have the dirt overflow.

Look at them bloom!
Apparently they need oodles of fertilizer. Originally I gave them some blood & bone. I will have to add some more when I get some! They have also sprouted more than one leafy bush per potato! More potatoes for me? I have no idea! They also have that annoying white fly buzzing around. I'm going to have to confidor them or something too!

Odd things really. They apparently will flower & then die. You dig them up similar to onions after all the growth is dead.

Christmas potatoes? Possibly!? 

Monday, 8 October 2012

What a difference a day makes!

I managed to neglect my seeds over the last few days of rain and WOW! What a surprise when I went in there this morning! 

There is growth everywhere! Tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis, artichokes, pumpkins - all had major growth spurts! The beans have all popped up after planting them a few weeks ago... even the ones I planted on Friday last week have been super keen & have little sprouts! 

Just shows what the right conditions can do! :) I think it could be the heat from not opening the door for a few days? Well that's my best guess since there hasn't been much sun around the place - just more rain!

So far I've haven't had much trouble with the seeds, which has surprised me - I thought I would fail at most of them & have to sneak down to the shop for some seedlings! A couple of the tomatoes didn't germinate & mesculin lettuce wasn't a great success. I haven't had much luck on the watermelon & capsicum front either. After the initial sprout of the capsicums they have reached a major plateau with no further growth! I still have hope for the melons - there is no sign of anything there! Will give it a little while longer before I re-sow them.

As for the main garden - the onions seem to have taken alright - but my poor carrots...... I can see a couple here & there.. but I think the others have shriveled back into nothingness. DOH! I'll have to re-sow some I think - straight into the ground this time! No transplanting! Maybe I transplanted them while they were too small.......?

I also managed to convince hubby to empty the compost bin too last weekend.... needless to say this smelly job was not the most dignified! But we got the layers going! My friend has the same issue with it not breaking down & is trying compost accelerator - so I thought I'd give it a go too! I think its mostly manure/blood & bone which can increase decomposition - so its probably more on the expensive side then buying a bag of manure but it probably has some bacteria & lime or something in there to help it along as well. You only use a small amount - so I'm expecting it to last a very long time! We did the layering the 'perfect compost recipe  way - 10cm each of brown sticks etc, then food scraps, a handful of compost enhancer on the scraps & then a grass layer to add heat. We had so much brown matter in there that I've filled a smaller bin up with it to have on tap when we empty the food scraps bin. That way I can keep the layers going rather than just putting in huge amounts of scraps! :) The bin is nearly full though!

Looking forward to just a bit more growth before I can plant them out! :)

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Putting out the first seedlings!

Today I planted some of my seedlings out!! Wahoo! The cabbages were starting to get a bit lanky in the greenhouse! I have no idea when I'm supposed to put them out really! But I read somewhere that when they have 4 proper leaves (the first 2 leaves don't count!) it's generally good size. 

Look closely & see the cabbages! :)
I also planted out the onions, beetroots & the carrots. I'm a bit worried that they will all shrivel & die being moved! But the onions & beetroots had become stagnant in their growth & the carrots I got told don't like being transplanted when they get bigger... so I planted them all! Hard things to plant when they are small! If they die, my plan is to try the direct seed method, as its warming up (well... a little anyway).

Before I planted them I did 'harden them off' like the books recommend. This is just when you take them out of the greenhouse environment & put them outside gradually for a couple of days for them to get used to the differing temperatures. When I say 'gradually' I just put them out! They were fine, even though it poured the first night!

I haven't done so well on the succession planting. We are going to have an abundance of carrots, onions, cabbages & beetroots at once! When I put my seeds in - I accounted for some not to take - & they all pretty much did! I couldn't bear to biff the plants out! It just seemed a waste! I guess succession is all about trial & error! But most of the things that are in the ground now in mass are things that can be stored well.

I also have a HEAP of radishes, as my 'supposed spring onions' are defiantly radishes! Bonus for my Mother in law! She will reap the harvest of my excess!

I've also started to think about watering for summer. You can see in the picture some bright green stripes & no, that's not just an arty zebra move! They are soaker hoses ($5 for 7m down at Mitre10) and I've put one in each garden before the plants grow & make it difficult to lay them underneath the plants. The soaker hoses just slowly leak out water from your hose. The idea being that it dosen't soak the foliage of the veges when you're watering & cause fungal infections from it being wet too long. I'm all for not standing for hours getting soaked by a dodgy, leaking hose watering the plants! :) 

So a fairly productive few days! :) Its so exciting to see some plants I've grown from tiny, tiny seeds actually IN the garden!! It never ceases to amaze me how amazing nature is! :) Fantastic!

Coffee Anyone?

Wow! I found some fantastic information when I was searching for what to do with my endless coffee grounds! Coffee grounds have some fantastic uses! I'm going to try the snail barrier idea! :)

  • Put coffee grounds in your compost bin. They are a valuable source of nitrogen.
  • Add grounds directly to the soil in your garden. You can scratch it into the top couple inches of soil, or just sprinkle the grounds on top and leave it alone.
  • Create a slug and snail barrier. Coffee grounds are both abrasive and acidic, so a barrier of grounds placed near slug-prone plants may just save them from these garden pests.
  • Make coffee ground "tea." Add two cups of used coffee grounds to a five-gallon bucket of water. Let the "tea" steep for a few hours or overnight. You can use this concoction as a liquid fertilizer for garden and container plants. It also makes a great foliar feed.
  • Add coffee grounds to your worm bin. Worms love coffee grounds! Add some to your worm bin every week or so. Just don't add too many at once, because the acidity could bother your worms. A cup or so of grounds per week for a small worm bin is perfect.

Other uses - 

They can repel fleas, be used as a facial scrub, hair conditioner, remove furniture scratches, repels cats from gardens, absorbs odours in cupboards & freezers, increases carrots & radish production & so much more!

WOW! Makes having a coffee all the more worth it!

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Choosing a fertiliser

When wandering the local hardware store for fertiliser you can't help but be overwhelmed with entire aisles filled with the stuff! You can get powders, liquids, concentrates, sprays, manures, composts, general purpose, specifics, organics, synthetics .......................


Photo by fodwyre

Okay - so lets do a bit of research on what's going on here!

There are generally two forms of fertilisers - Granular & Liquid.

Granular - You sprinkle these on the soil & work them in with a spade.
Liquid - You dilute them in water & spray onto foliage, or used as part of the watering process in which the plants absorb it through roots.

There are a multitude of nutrients needed for growing anything e.g. copper, iron, magnesium etc. but the main three that are present in fertiliser are Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium. Generally the consensus is that the majority of nutrients are needed in small amounts and so the amount present in your soil is enough to not be a real concern to have to replace. However NPK (Nitrogen, phosphorous & potassium) can be depleted & are essential to healthy plant growth.

So what do these do?

Nitrogen (N) - This is used by plants for plant growth - producing leaf growth & greener, lusher leaves.
Phosphorous (P) - This is used by plants to increase flower/fruit development and to produce stronger root systems.
Potassium (K) - This is for flower colour and size. It can also help the strength of the plant.

So on your fertiliser there should be a 3 numbered ratio e.g 10:20:30. This corresponds to the percentage of N:P:K in the fertiliser you are buying. So in a 100kg bag of 10:20:30 -would have 10kg N, 20kg P, 30kg K.

Generally you can figure out what fertiliser you need through the leaf appearance - Nitrogen deficiencies lead to yellow/brown leaves, Phosphorous deficiencies cause purple veined & slow growing leaves, Potassium deficiencies lead to curled, distorted leaves. The balance between these elements determines where plants focus their growth - a high Nitrogen ratio boosts leaf growth, ideal for lawns, shrubs & plants where you want them to bush out/foliage is a priority. A high Phosphorous ratio will boost fruit, flower & vegetable growth at the expense of leaf growth.

Manure anyone?
So then we come to the hard question - What do I buy?

Liquid vs Granular
Liquid needs to be applied more often, but absorbed faster & tends to be more expensive. It is easy to apply with a sprayer or hose attachment. Granular will stay in the soil longer and therefore not needed as often. They need to be applied by hand & watered in.

General vs Specific
If you have an average garden soil with healthy plants a general fertiliser with relatively even N:P:K ratios will work fine. If you have a tricky plant to grow that needs special care then maybe a specific fertiliser is best to get the ratio's right. If you are super keen - most websites recommend doing a pH test to see if your soil is acidic or alkaline & then you can use specific fertilisers to adjust the pH.

Organic (e.g. manure/blood & bone) vs. Inorganic
Organics are preferred when dealing with food, but can be deficient in providing everything you need to grow healthy plants. To compensate you may need to apply more often, or more than one (e.g. blood & bone is high in P, manure (e.g. sheep pellets) is good for soil structure & adding N). Synthetic's are accurate in the amounts of N:P:K you need & often only need one application. You can often get them with just one particular component.

So what am I going to do?

So far I've used a combination of compost, blood & bone & manure in the garden beds. However I have gone synthetic using the citrus fertiliser for my citrus fruit trees. From what I've learnt today I need to put some more compost which is an all around slow release fertiliser to build up my soil structure more. Generally the blood and bone will have provided the beds with a higher phosphorous content which should help my vegetable yield, size & quality. The sheep pellets will help with the growth of the plants themselves being higher in nitrogen. As for whether it works - we will soon find out as I'm going to start planting out some of my seedlings very soon!!!!

It's a Dirty Business!

Compost & soil - one of lifes messy, dirty, grubby things. But as I'm realising more and more with my clay soil - I need more of it!!

I've put 4 bags of compost in each of my gardens and I thought that this would be ample! But with such heavy topsoil that its mixed with, every time that it gets a bit of wind the soil drys into hard rocks!  I'm surprised anything is growing!

So whats the point of compost? When living matter dies and decomposes, nutrients go back into the soil. The humus remaining (the end product of this decomposition) gives the soil organic matter that can hold water and nutrients in the soil.

So basically it provides
  • Essential nutrients, 
  • Builds soil structure 
  • Enhances the life found in soil (worms, bacteria, fungi etc)
All of these things make for stronger, better plant growth.

The Perfect Compost Recipe;

Green Matter - Anything Living, its nitrogen rich, wet matter.
This includes, grass clippings, food scraps, manure, seaweed, tea leaves, coffee grounds etc.

Brown Matter - Carbon rich, dry matter
Newspaper, cardboard, shredded paper, egg cartons, tree prunings, dry leaves, bark, sawdust, wood ash, crushed shells etc.

What Not to compost - 
Meat, dairy, bones, infected plants, problem weeds e.g. wandering dew, jasmine etc.

  • Ideally the green & brown layers should be alternated with a 1:2 green: brown ratio.
  • You should turn it often. Every 6-8weeks is enough to encourage breakdown.
  • You should cover it with grass clippings so it heats up so it breaks down faster & kills the nasty organisms living in it.
  • Adding manure/blood & bone can speed up the process.

I've been dumping all my vegetable rubbish into the compost bin & worm bin for about 6 months now. The worm farm is thriving - lots of lovely worms & lovely worm tea to fertilise the place~! My compost however is not doing as well. In fact there really is no signs of compost at the bottom! There is a method to the madness of compost & I haven't put it into practice. I haven't been good at adding 'brown' matter, and I haven't turned it - well, ever! I don't own a fork and man is it hard to turn with a spade! It seems very compacted! 

I did finally get around to clearing up all the leaves from this massive tree overhanging the drive & actually - a lot of the leaf matter had already broken down! So I've dumped that into the compost in the hope it will do something for it! I still haven't worked out how to turn it yet! But I did get so much leaf matter its filled the whole bin up! This could be a disaster in the making! Oh well! Hopefully I'll have some sort of dirt at some point in the future! But I seriously think I need to dig it out & get some more layers going. Half filled with 'green matter' and then filled with 'brown matter' isn't quite the 'layered' effect the experts suggest! I should probably add some grass clippings to get it heating up too! 

My composting area
Another benefit to doing composting is that we get about a bucket load of scraps every few days. That's definatly saving us money from having to put it in the rubbish!

Check out this site: - It has good resources on different composting methods, common problems etc.

Monday, 24 September 2012

The importance of labelling!

Well its great - my seedlings are sprouting up in the greenhouse! I haven't gotten sick of looking at them everyday & seeing new growth & things changing! They all look generally the same (well for the most part!)! Its bizarre that so many varieties of food all start off with the same look. My capsicums that I was worried hadn't germinated have signs of life finally! :) Glad I didn't start them again!

I think there has been a mix up with my spring onions though! They look surprisingly like the radishes.... in fact.. they look NOTHING like an onion. I'm wondering whether some little children's fingers got into the packets and swapped a few things around! I guess I'll find out when they grow a bit bigger!

We also had a bit of wind which upturned a couple of pots & the name tags got up-heaved too! I guess I'll be hoping for the best when it comes to working out what is a cucumber & whats a zucchini!!!

Definatly a good thing to label well though. I've had a few 'oh I'll remember what I've planted' moments.... and I haven't! I found some neat cheap ways of labeling on the net - rather than the ice cream sticks I've been using. There is the option of plastic - which doesn't disintegrate but I think its pretty ugly. Check these ideas out;

I like the wooden spoon idea - which is the picture that says 'lettuce'. Instead of wood burning the name of the plant on, I've seen ones that have just been painted. Its great recycling to use your old cutlery too - or a can lid!! The wooden stakes also look nice - a bit more formal if you have the time & wood! Some people out there are so creative!

On the flower front I've planted a hellebore under a few of my fruit trees & I've got some lavender I've put along the fenceline. Still no sign of bees! Again the plants are on the small side.... but I haven't got around to looking at some annuals yet. Planted my seedlings of marigolds though for the vegetable patch!

I'm also starting to think about planting my peas & beans :) I really want to stagger these, as I don't want masses all at once.

The weather hasn't really been helping - its sunny one moment, freezing the next! I'm a bit scared to put anything outside yet in fear of mass destruction! :)

Bring on summer! :)

Monday, 17 September 2012

Missing the bees!

Well after reading an article in the herald last week about the bee colonies disappearing I decided to focus on flowers for the moment while my seeds are doing their growing!

When we moved here there was a few citrus scattered about & we decided to move them into a 'semi-orchard' area together. The same with the stonefruit that I wanted to plant. I love the idea of having fruit on tap - and have fond memories of picking fruit & berries with my Grandfather around his section when I was young. Over winter I planted some fruit trees - both stone-fruit & citrus trees about the place. Because we are in the city and don't have that much space I planted them quite close together - about 2m apart from each other in a zig zag pattern along the fenceline. There was already a few mature fruit trees here which was good! (So much for the cricket pitch - poor hubby! But don't feel too sorry for him - he mowed over my gooseberry plants thinking they were part of the grass the other day! I do realise now the important of buying bigger than a seedling when crazy mower men are about! The poor stubby stick remnants left are fighting hard to continue life!)

My plan is to plan & think like the orchardists do - maximum yield for minimum space & to learn how to prune these accordingly.

But I realised the other day is that I haven't seen a single bee in the garden! Not that I'm expecting any fruit this year anyway (as my trees are only a couple of years old) but to put it simply - to make fruit you need bees, bees need flowers & I don't actually have many around.

Guess thats a downside to living in the city - you can't just get a hive about the place.... well.... actually you can! There is a company that hires beehives out to Aucklanders - Bring back the bee's (& 15kg of honey!) ;)

But for those who can't have hives - we need to focus on flowers! :) I've just spent all winter removing pretty much everything that was originally in the gardens when we arrived - which was mainly a big cluttered mix of annuals that were bombarding my gardens with tall, ugly growth. The plants that I've put in to replace them - although eventually will be beautiful & full of bloom - are currently small & wont have much to show for come spring or summer this year. So, I'm turning my focus to what I can use to attract the small number of bees left & doing a bit of planning on how I can attract some more bees into the garden.

I had always planned on putting marigolds around the vegetables as companion plants, but I think I need to get a bit more creative around the somewhat sparse section now! I always seem to skip the flower section of books & websites & get straight into the food!

I do like the look of hellabore (pictured), which I'm hoping to put under each of my fruit trees & will get a few lavender plants about the place. I guess I can count my rosemary - although like the rest of the garden its pretty small & new! I may have to get a few annuals about the place (& maybe start reading the flower sections!) Watch this space!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The first plants go in!

I'm so excited! The first plantings are in: potatoes, garlic, rhubarb and asparagus! Even though the weather hasn't been great - got a few breaks of rain to get out into the garden.

What Asparagus Looks Like :)
I promised myself that this year, having no real experience in growing successful vegetables I would keep it simple. I remember my teachers through college pushing that saying "KISS - Keep it simple stupid!" for all your exams - although I'm sure they replaced stupid with something more pc ;). But, I couldn't help myself at the shops and bought some asparagus crowns! Such a bizarre vegetable to grow! I know I won't be able to eat a single spear for a few years but its one of those unusual plants that if it actually grows will be a great success story! The strange thing is that they grow almost fern like when you let them grow past a spear. They looks so different to what I expected. The female plants also have poisonous red berries on them, which will be a challenge for the kids not to touch. I wonder if I'll see something out of them this year! :)

As for the garlic I know its late planting. I read online that you could spur on their germination by keeping them in the fridge for a few weeks, which I did in the hope that they will grow into something! Apparently they are hardy wee things that grow in harsh environments so I'm hopeful! A couple of the cloves had turned into green dust... Yuck. But the rest looked healthy enough. Gave them a good feeding of worm tea so let's hope that's enough! Watch this space!

So the garden actually has some green in it - although sparse! In fact... really it's only the rhubarb! :) But the weather has given us some good rain to water everything, followed by some beautiful days! Pity its SO cold at night. Hope the seeds will survive the weather!

I did manage to get some herbs planted too - I bought some mint, parsley, oregano & rosemary. My oregano is 'hot & spicy!' It will be interesting to see what it really tastes like! Great for pizza if it's true! I decided to plant them into pots, so they can take advantage of being in full sun next to my door! :)

I plan to grow basil from seed - as I want to attempt to get enough to make my own pesto this year :) I have a space 'space' in one of my herb pots to put something.. but I couldn't decide what! Will have to have a think about it - but it will probably end up being thyme. :)

Lets hope for some decent weather this weekend to get out in the garden! :)

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Seeds vs Seedlings

Well its the great debate - seed vs seedlings!

Some people have had lots of problems getting seeds growing & only buy seedlings. Others have this natural knack of getting each & every seed in the packet to grow into productive plants.

I found an old seedbox that my Grandfather made for a school project for me back in school - & it still had seeds in it! Well I naively thought - "Bonus - seeds!" Needless to say they were all abismal failures & I never tried seeds since that episode a few years ago.

Learning Moment: Seeds do actually expire!

But being self sufficient for me personally also means being cost effective. Even though seedlings aren't that expensive to buy - in fact the cell packs you buy (6 seedlings) are around the same as one pack of seeds. There is really no comparison though when you get a pack of 20-100 seeds compared with 6 plants. This means you can have enough to replace 'failures' & plenty for next year! (just watch those expiry dates! haha). So, its seeds for me!

I went through to get my seeds. They have the exotic as well as the common ones. I've heard is another good place to go.

There are a few things that I'm not going to get seeds for - and thats some herbs that I'd like to try out before growing them in masses.  I'll do the run of the mill - coriander, parsley & basil by seed. Borage & maybe some medicinal herbs would be nice. But that's going to be secondary to getting the veges growing this year! Who can resist the lovely sound of 'pineapple sage' or 'lemon balm' - but realistically - who knows whether they taste more like catnip! ;)

So - I've got a few of those professional looking seed trays - but mostly I've filled up whatever I had with seed raising mix. I used a few small seedling pots hanging around, a polystyrene tray with a few screwdriver holes in the bottom & filled some pots shallowly on the bottom.

A few weeks back I planted some cabbages - red & green, onions, tomatoes, beetroot, capsicum & globe artichokes. Last week I added some spinach, spring onions, carrots, cucumber, zuchinni & lettuce. I'm following the garden calender recommended by but there are plenty around to try!

Its such a good feeling when you go to visit your seeds & see little bursts of life that have suddenly 'appeared'! The only seeds that haven't sprouted something are my capsicums. Reading a bit more about them they need a constant warm temperature - not sure if they've had that being in Auckland with our crazy weather! But I'll keep my hopes up before I try again & plant some more! I'll have to do a bit of research on how long you just leave them be - Surely in nature when a seed drops to the ground it has some sort of dormancy that occurs until that perfect time, under the perfect conditions?

If you have any suggestions - or want to comment on whats worked for you -  there is a comment button below this post :) Whats the strangest herb you've ever successfully grown?

Until next time!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Designing the Plots!

Well I don't know about you, but I've found that every book & webpage has a different version on what plants are 'companions' and what are 'enemies'. There are some plants that do better and have more disease resistance if you plant them in different places each year (crop rotation) or with their 'friendly companions', which sounds like a great idea! Why not if its going to help fend off the bugs?! 

I've also looked into old fashioned row by row vs square foot & decided on giving the square foot method a go, as I want to get the most yield from the space I have. I've heard mixed reviews about the success of this system & I think I will vary a bit from the quantities suggested on some things. I can't see how a tomato plant can fit into a square foot... and a rhubarb..... (but I could be wrong!). But definitely for the majority - like beets, onions, garlic etc. I'm going to give it a go! 

So I've measured my 'feet' out & put the strings up. 

So in designing my plots originally it was all a bit of a hap-hazard guess. There are some that are obviously good together like Tomatoes & Capsicums; and others like Beans and tomatoes that shouldn't be planted together, but should follow each other in rotation! Confused?! SO was I! So I ended up using an internet site that designed vege plots instead.

Check out: - Its a fantastic web garden design program that you can either use for normal row by row gardens or square foot gardens. It has a click & point system to put plants on the grid. The BEST feature is that it will have this flashing red warning system when you're about to plant some 'enemies' together! 

Another cool feature is that you can have a follow on garden.  So say you plant your spuds in place "A" this year, when you go to plant your spuds in 2013 the same warning flashing red system applies so it warns you if you're planting in the place where tomatoes/potatoes were planted last year! Fantastic for the memory challenged such as myself! I've only tried the 30 day trial so far & planned out my gardens for next year using their system (Although I'm sure that my plans will change!). You can print them off & find out information about each plant. It even has a location function - so you can get the plants specific to your country. 

Check out my plan!!! 

My gardens were slightly bigger than a complete foot each side - so where it has plants hanging over the edge I'm just using a strip of them not the full amount.

For those Square Foot Gardeners out there - this program also has the Quantities you can plant of each vegetable per foot in the top left corner of each vege! Something invaluable as I couldn't find anything that listed all the veges available & how many you could plant in each foot using this method.

So there's the plan! I had a lot of fun planning & moving & making things fit! Hope you do too!!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Clearing the Grass, Building the Beds!

Well, we spent a good couple of weeks getting these fantastic raised garden beds made!

The soil here is clay, it has a decent 10-20cm topsoil layer, but boy is it waterlogged during winter!

So we decided to build raised garden beds for better drainage, and they just look so much better than having a hole in the grass!

We overturned the grass, and built a path down one side with some leftover bricks that were scattered around the property.

We used 200x50 H4 pine to build them, and put polythene around the inner edges to prevent any minimal chemical residue (most sites say its safe & wouldn't have any residue, but we just wanted to be safe!). We chose that size wood, mainly because it was on special & cheaper than the 150x50! Also we chose the treated over macrocarpa for the longivity of it. Macrocarpa looks fantastic, but its more expensive & you'll have to replace it at some point within the next 10years. I can't guarantee that I'll have any money to do that! lol

We built 4 boxes which are 2.7m long & 1.4m wide. This is the area I was allowed to use (as my hubby was very strict on not encroaching on his valuable cricket pitch!) & I just divided it into four reasonable sized beds that worked in with the lengths of wood I could get. The only thing I made sure of was being able to reach the middle from each side.

They look fantastic & luckily we had just dug out some soil elsewhere on the property so we could top each box up with it. I thought after putting the compost & manure I'd ordered in, it would make it significantly higher but fully underestimated that one! We added 4 bags of 55L - 2 manure, 2 compost & it hardly lifted the level at all! I guess it will just have to be one of those 'over time' things! Eventually I'll pave in between them and down the other side as we collect more bricks! :)