Monday, September 27, 2010

Spring Cheer

Last week was a dreadful one for gardening. I despaired of posting a blog at all and then decided to cheer everybody up with a few gardening-gone-bad photos. After all I am always telling the boys that mistakes are learning opportunities, so learn from me.
The worst of the storms passed us by but we had snow and too much wind to even be in the glasshouse so I ended up doing house-work; be amazed.
Returning to the mysterious yellow lupin patches, compare the yellow on the right to the control lupin on the left. The photo doesn't bring it all out but on the left there are fine threads off the tap root with nitrogen nodules on them. The root is fairly much the same colour as the stem and as long as the plant is high. The yellow lupin was unable to fix nitrogen and the root sort of shatters in all directions; where the stem hits the soil it changes to a dark brown. It wouldn't be much of a leap to say the problem is in the soil.

For the record, lupin is easier to dig in than oats; if I had a small glasshouse with the compost bin handy I would probably just put the cover crop on the compost heap and put compost in the glasshouse. Here, that would involve too much double handling and it is better just to grab the spade and dig. Optimum benefits accrue a month after digging in the cover crop so that puts me in line to plant the tomatoes Labour Week-end.
Now one of my neighbours chanced to ask me if hydrangeas grow well in this climate. 'As a matter of fact I have one in my garden. Come and see...'
Hydrangeas are shade tolerant, but not drought, frost or neglect tolerant. As Meat Loaf did not say: 'three out of four is very bad'.

Now I rethought our tiny balcony, did nothing and worked out that it was a success story after all. Ruth has started a feature on Real Gardens and the first one, here, has a lovely seating area that really caught my imagination: it has trees for shade, bulbs and other garden enticements. Ours is a concrete block that is also a thoroughfare to the back door. The obvious thing might seem to be pots but I know I would never water them, (drought, frost,neglect...) and the result would be worse than nothing.
So I'll talk you through the existing features.
1. The brick walls heat up during the day and release heat in the evening. That's when the seats against the walls come into their own.
2. The table seats 6 and is right beside the BBQ
3.We look out over the Maniototo plains from here with trees in the foreground.
In conclusion, the space functions well for a crowd and the ambience comes from the surrounding countryside. That's enough.

The Fruit Fly Incident
Funny how small things can lead to bigger outcomes. The heart of it is that I haven't been straining the tea leaves; instead, just slopping the whole lot into the compost bucket and the result was an incredibly wet compost heap and a build up of fruit flies. Well they don't like the cold and I would empty the bucket on a frosty morning, take the lid off and sling it in. If the air had warmed up there would have been a swarm all over me. All over Bill as it happened because the population hit the exponential growth button, warmth,moisture etc while I was away in Australia. They must have piggy backed into the house on Bill, they really stick to you, and the windows were black. He had to spray all the sills with fly spray and then rebuild the heap outside, incorporating all the boxes of bits and garden peices that I had been saving for this very thing.
I'm sorry Bill, I can hardly type for laughing but you did a great job thanks. We're currently enjoying the Bokashi Buckets instead. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Reach for the Sky

Temperatures in Brisbane ran about 25 degrees every day and I came home to snow. Everybody complained as they got off the plane in Dunedin but it is spring and this is spring weather. Now we are preparing for THE BIG STORM. The lambs are wearing little coats and newly shorn stock are being brought in to shelter.

There was a progaramme on TV in Autralia, called, say Letters and Numbers. The winner consistently created the longest words out of a random selection of letters. If you want to share the fun, todays letters are E E A O I L T T (and Jen, it is not toilet).

I've achieved a massive seed credit with Otepoti Seed Savers so on top of my modest order, Bart sent another dozen or so packets to try. My own selection seems boring in that it is carefully considered on a practical level, trying to please everybody and not pushing the growing boundaries. I really enjoy trying out these surprise items. Cue the unrelated photo. (I have a feeling that text and photos are not going to align this week.) Below, enjoying the experience of a Polyanthus potting success story; just the one. The tub still has its plug.

There is a certain ignition point in the growing year when everything seems to take off. It happened while I was away and suddenly my red onion sets have become spring onions. We'll use them as such and go on to plan B, C, D, E...Things often don't go exactly to plan.
This week is planting week so I'm sowing seed for the hardier things and early glasshouse crops: Leeks 'Frosty Morning', more tomatoes, Black Krim and 'Heather's' (gifted seed), Zuchinni Striato D'Italia, Lettuce 'Rubin', Dill, Celery 'Crunchy Dwarf', Parsely 'Coastal Otago', Spinach 'Pounamu' ,Broccolli 'Multi Cropper'. I'd like to get the Sugar Snap peas in too but that requires a little bit of site preparation...

The first tomato seed is potted up and this year I have constructed a little fleece tent in the glasshouse. At night I pull over some bubblewrap for extra warmth. The days are not necessarily cracking 10 degrees here let alone at night. I suspect that the later plantings will quickly catch up with these because of the warmer temperatures.

In the other glasshouse I've rogued out the potatoes. The bits and bobs from last years crop come up a few weeks earlier than the intentional seed so it is easy to pick them out now to clear the ground for the legitimate crop. Potatoes will grow from the smallest scrap but they won't produce a good crop.

The tomato seedlings on the left were on top of a high cupboard and when I got home they were stretched and pale and reaching for the sun: ETIOLATE -to make a plant pale by excluding light.
I've got plenty of other seed (photo on right) so I won't use them. I read a book called Hands-On Agronomy while I was away and Mr Kinsey reminded me of the concept of the 'growing highway'; of as much as possible, creating an uninterrupted trajectory of growth. I didn't have enough grasp of the science to take it all on board but the book was all about establishing the correct mineral balance as the starting point for your soil. It's a farmer's book really; it could be a litmus test on how serious you are about gardening or an indication of peaceful hospital moments, sitting by a sleeping patient's bedside.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 3, 2010

Outlook Fine

We caught a glimpse of a lady on Close Up the other week, billed as a 'Dr Dolittle' who talked to animals. The only bit I saw was a cluster of animals making a noise. 'So what are they saying?' says the presenter.
'Oh they're just talking about the weather.' How we laughed. I have a saying that life is always telling us something, if only we would listen and this lupin below is signalling in bright colours: 'Look at me and do something.' My first guess was nitrogen deficiency. These are the glasshouse beds that I buried in wood chips and pony droppings; wood chips tying up available nitrogen as they break down which they will release once the process is complete. Now the lupin is fixing nitrogen from the air but that won't be released until the roots are dug in to rot.

I swallowed my pride and shot another question off to Dirt Doctor wishing that I had enrolled under a psuedonym. If I ever do one of their courses they'll see my name and roll their eyes. Jim says a number of interesting things: Could be burning from excess nitrogen in fresh manure, could be herbicide residues in the poo or chemical residue from anything the calves-that-mucked-the-woodchips were treated with (eek), or pathogens in the soil or introduced. He suggested applying lime. I noticed 'greening' on the soil here pre any Autumn additions so had planned to do the same thing myself.

So moving right along...

Photo on the left is one of the paths in the same glasshouse. A quick weed and shovel up what the birds have scratched out of the beds. Then I've put down heavy white plastic strips in between the beds, photo on the right. This has been done before (not by me) and I remember it helped keep the paths weed free. It will also reflect light and heat back up to ripen tomatoes. Those tomatoes so far, thanks for the suggestions Tim, are 'brandywine pink', and a small one 'black cherry' both from Kings and I have booked some 'Grosse Lisse' from master greenfingers (Hamish) down the road. In addition, my own beefsteak seed has failed to germinate so I will be browsing the garden shop next week and can try some others instead.

The bees are enjoying the weeds in the vegetable garden so much I haven't the heart to pull them out so I dug out the raspberries and moved them into my backyard instead. Having read up about them I've decided they are Autumn fruiting. Of course I trundled them up in the wheelbarrow first, then went inside to learn that I shouldn't let the roots dry out; went out and turned the turf over to begin to prepare the ground, thus day one. (photo on left)

Day two dug 8 holes, added a shovel of grit and compost and chopped it all in with the turf. Pruned them right back to stumps(photo on right), see what eventuates; raspberries I hope. Autumn fruiters are supposed to be better for a hot climate, don't need staking, are completely cut down in winter and pruned again back to 6 stakes if required. I should be so lucky.

Now apparently we are in for a mild start to Spring with some cold snaps and it snapped today alright. Life is always telling us something but sometimes it is just talking about the weather.
Posted by Picasa