Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A good day for gardening

It has just occurred to me that this blog is a little like my life at the moment: trying to fit too many things onto one page.
It's a very typical squeeze in the gardening calendar, especially where you have a short growing season. In fact, I go down to the garden and feel very much like a primary school teacher with a large class of small children, who all want attention at once. The trick is knowing which voice to attend to first.

The tomatoes are very interesting at the moment and I've come to the conclusion that the biggest factor in yield is genetics. Next year I'll put most of my money on ... moneymaker which has reliably set good clusters of tomatoes and has had less deviants. Which brings me to Beefsteak which has thrown up all sorts of variants all of which produce less fruit.
1. Sometimes the flowering spur is not obviously attatched to a growing tip. The stalk splits in two, thus (below left) and then you have two tips. Productivity drops right away. The answer is to choose one leader and pinch the other one out.
2. No growth tip. The plant grinds to a halt and only sets one spur of fruit. (I forgot to put in the picture for this and haven't mastered the art of adding it in.) Answer is to replace the plant with the spare ones you are nursing along in pots, hopefully. Be ruthless. It won't come to anything.
3. Great looking flowers, (Photo on the right) the plant is covered with them but there's something wrong. I'll have to do a side-by-side analysis but they look wrong and haven't set any fruit over the whole plant.

This is Not Companion Planting

What I learnt last year, with pumpkins and corn, is that companion planting doesn't mean putting two things in the place of one. Each needs room to grow. Well I planted that corn that's cramming out the beans, the Chieftain hybrid, and intended to pot it up until there was space to plant it. Corn resents being moved and is a difficult seed to germinate unless you are in the know. This time I clearly got it right, planted the seed into watered ground, covered it with a sack and left it until it germinated. Out of two packets (Kings Seeds) I have transplanted 150 seedlings today and still another 50 at least to go. Every seed in the pack must have sprouted.
This works well for large seeds which can otherwise rot.
Oh that's what I was saying, I missed the moment to pot it up and decided to leave it until it could go straight into the ground.

Here's another corn/bean suffocating friendship combo; the mistakes here are barely enough space for the corn and then the beans went in too late and were rapidly outgrown by the corn so haven't got the light or nutrient they need. I'll move them even at this late stage when I can make space somewhere.

Here's the seedlings in my flash new trays. Some of these will go out into the shade house for a week or so to harden off. The other thing I could do is plant them straight into the garden and cover them with a cloche (an empty plastic bottle with the bottom cut off) for a few days for extra protection. The birds enjoy them as a snack and they don't want to be drying out. Probably their biggest threat at the moment is that I'm going on holiday and like all mothers, nobody loves them like I do.

The perfect photo in the gardening magazine, or on a packet of seed, is at the end of a very long chain which is not always completed. It also doesn't matter. When I planted the broad beans in April into very poor soil there were a number of things I was considering: they became a useful windbreak, the beans fix nitrogen and the soil in point was no longer lying bare over winter. Growing them prepares the way to grow something else better there next. Well besides all that we have eaten quite a few along the way and then eventually I did get around to picking them, co-incidentally just when there were plenty of spare hands around to help pod them.
By this stage they were fairly large and less than ideal eating but I rewarded their tenacity, lavishing them with a bit of extra attention. All the larger ones I have skinned, it's not hard, and this way I know that in the middle of winter they will be an appealing find in the freezer. Yes, nobody loves them like I do. It's also one of the things that is so rewarding about gardening. The satisfaction of paying attention to details that make the difference.

Three quarters of the potatoes were gone by Christmas Eve. A queue of black plastic bags by the door as the men filled the orders and away they went. Bye bye.
Well yesterday was scorching hot, too hot to garden so I took the kids down to the river for a swim and then watered the garden in the evening. And then today the cold weather, wind and bits of rain came through which made it a perfect day to be in the glasshouse planting corn. The weather is always good for gardening.
Now the notice board has fallen off the toilet wall and I have no poety forum until it's fixed. So I will put one more thing on the already crowded page. A poem by Andrew Johnston from his book How to Talk which I picked up at the Naseby book sale for $1.25 yesterday.
For the record, the ladies went to the book sale and then had a coffee at the Black Forest Cafe.
The Poetry Inspector

has been sent by the tradition
to check our
nails. His are impeccable

as his crisp tones, which come to a
somewhere over the horizon. This

is called verse
says the verse detective

filing his ironies.
He says
we're menaced by

and smiles;

he can tell us if our
poems have class,
whether our nails fail or pass.

We should render our
to the things that are England's

encapsulates the tenor of
his findings;
he sometimes spares a word of praise

for good
it should be said

the poetry inspector
sometimes hits the
nail on the head
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Sunday, December 20, 2009

optimum versus possible

This is the time of year when the distance between what needs to be done and what gets done stretches out like a very long peice of elastic. Not that it's anything new: case in point globe artichokes. I planted the seed in autumn and it overwintered in the glasshouse. They are not particularly frost tolerant which may end up being a problem here where we have up to -12 frosts. I'm going to cover them with hay in the winter, and see if it blows away, or not. Anyway, the plant on the right and its fortunate companions was planted in timely fashion into reasonable conditions. A winter mulch of newspaper, leaves and peastraw over couch grass (lawn) amongst the fruit trees. Add shelter from the wind, and water as regularly as anything else, voila.
Several months later, surviving in pots, sibling plants went into drier ground and leaf mulch which remains dry unless it has a cover of something. It didn't. The difference in colour is just the light yesterday evening. Happily the first artichoke is ready to pick now. For anybody who's worried about how far it will go amongst 6, not far at all but there are others coming on.

Now to tidy up remaining loose ends before next year: Chris Tea here's a particularly attractive salt pig belonging to my neighbour Sarah. I always thought the 'pig' must be a scottish thing for bag/jar/crock, like they have a 'poke' of chips (which is a parcel of them) but lo, a search through the online dictionary, and the culinary dictionary yeilded zilch. Well a salt pig is a container for holding your salt, normally right beside the stove. The idea behind this design on the left is that somehow this shape keeps your salt dry, from the days when salt was seen to be anhydrous and went clumpy as it absorbed moisture from the air. They must put something in it now to keep it freeflowing. The salt pig on the right might perhaps be your default option or batch/crib variety. This one sitting comfortably beneath Maisie in Marg's kitchen and looking perfectly at home. Thanks ladies.

Moving into the big time Bill has made me a small fleet of seedling boxes, most of which have already been pressed into service. They are 3 inches deep to provide plenty of root space, not too big because they get quite heavy; can you see all the drainage holes in the bottom? And hold about 50 plants this time round. Will see how prudent that was in time. May be too crowded. Thanks Bill.
It's a very good thing to have a gardening ally for all sorts of jobs and construction and moral support. We stopped at Flag Swamp School on our way home from Dunedin last week because the horse poo stand had been replenished. At 20c a bag it is the best buy of the year and although the car was full, all 6 of us, plus the Christmas shopping, groceries 'the big shop', library books and so on there was a little foot space here and there and most laps were clear and I only had a $2 coin. In they went, stowed 10 glorious bags and away we went but as the car took off, little black fleas emerged and clustered all over us and the windows. Murmurs of discontent and dissatisfaction from the back.
'Boys' said Bill, 'what you have to understand is that this is who your Mother is.'
So bolstered by such a show of understanding and acceptance I put in a request to have the plastic laundry basket mended instead of throwing it out to the dump and already Bill has drilled holes and laced it up like a bodice. Beautiful. Who could ask for anything more? Thanks for your support with all my crazy schemes.

As soon as I saw Chris Tea's 'pink farm' I realised why I had trouble hanging these 2 little Ivan Hill paintings. Small paintings go well as a collection and in a house without a lot of hanging space left, there is always a place for them. This tiny farm is perfect and we live on a tiny farm. Thanks, I love it.
Posted by PicasaNearly final thanks, the Area School graciously paid for Giles to go on his jazz trip to Wellington.
Big Noise in the
Joshua blew upon his horn
and Jericho's great walls
were gorn.
So, if you play guitar,
then dump it.
Make an impact:
buy a trumpet.
-Stuart Porteous
thanks God, for such an amazing reason to celebrate Christmas.

Friday, December 11, 2009

turning up the heat

Without stepping in to the river of climate change debate, I'll just stand on the bank and observe that it doesn't mean the sizzling hot summer of your dreams. Although this has apparently been one of the hottest years on record, what we've actually had was a kind of lacklustre winter, cold and unpredictable; not as cold as usual, but neither were the days clear and sunny which we can get with really cold nights and mornings. To cut to the chase, the upshot is that it may not be a good year for corn and pumpkins. Ah the thud as we fall from lofty political and ecological heights to the solid ground of base level gardening, which is what are we going to eat?

To introduce the corn trio, on the left: Chieftain F1, yes it's a hybrid from Kings seeds. I panicked because it was getting so late in the season and this one promises to mature in 79 days from seedling emergence. I planted it 1st December and it was up by the 5th and today is the 11th so it's not wasting any time. Expect to eat this corn at the end of February no matter what because it will follow the potatoes in the glasshouse and lead a sheltered life.
Middle photo is Rainbow Inca, a Koanga seed and NZ heirloom. It has large cobs so will probably need at least 90 days. Planted 29 October. Oh, you can't see it, looks like peas. The theory is the corn will take up nitrogen from the peas as the two grow together. Well corn needs heat, and peas like cold and it has been cold; a pea take-over... It may be ready mid February but it may not come to anything. This lot is outside and I am thinking about covering it with frost cloth and see if we can get some growth.
Third picture corn arrived as tiny seedlings from Hamish, the budding 6yr old gardener down the road. I've had it in the glasshouse since about mid October. The tillers, which are the shoots on the sides, aren't coming to much which is probably just the cold. Ideally you would get 3 or 4 strong tillers, which means 3 or 4 extra cobs.

After a lot of trial and error I have discovered I get the best results by planting seeds straight in the ground. These were all planted 1st December. It pays to know what varieties are slow to germinate, like parsely and celery so you remember to keep watering their spot long after the other seedlings have left town. I keep the ground consistently damp except for corn which is tricky. The voice of experience here will save you grief. Corn seed rots: you wet the ground, plant the corn, cover it with newspaper or something to keep the moisture in and then leave it until it germinates. I found this out the hard way, sorry Bart. That's why there's no photo of Otepoti Honey Pearl. That's why I panicked and bought a hybrid replacement.
From here I will prick these seedlings out into pots next week. They like company and do best together. Big seeds will go into individual pots, (corn, zuchinni) and keep the pots huddled together. How do I know when it's time to put them into the garden? I'm glad you asked.

This is one of the Otepoti yellow tomatoes. I only wish Cucumber green shorts was doing so well. In my experience the plants you buy come in very small containers that just don't have enough nutrient. They get rootbound very quickly. In a larger pot your plant is a good size by the time it's ready to plant out. By now I've used up most of the room in the glasshouse so I'll go through and pull out any plants that aren't performing and replace them. Sometimes you'll get plants without a growing tip that just turn into a stump, or that are male, no flowers, or that aren't true to type (the glasshouse is not the place to celebrate difference; it's all about performance).

A final sad shot of Otepoti pumpkin Galeux d'Eysine. French heirloom. Needs 100 days. Seed planted end of October. Moved from the glasshouse to the garden end of November and then we had a frost on the 4th. The tyres absorb heat and provide a little shelter which helped, they also help conserve moisture and later on, they tell you where to water when the ground becomes a sea of pumpkin leaves. Here's hoping.

I nearly forgot, the yellow zuchinni have climbed on board the vegetable wagon. The first gorgeous photo has got lost somewhere inbetween the computer meltdown and reinstalling the photo programmes. To conclude the gardening saga, to quote from Mama's last letter 'love and best wishes to everyone and cries of encouragement as we dash up the slope to CHRISTMAS'.
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