Friday, December 17, 2010

Growing Soil

'Chop chop choppity chop
Chop off the bottom and chop off the top'
Now at this point, seasoned Southland gardeners will know what I have been doing this week. The rest of you will have to guess.
It's been unusual growing conditions this year. This sounds like an excuse for something that has gone wrong; not quite, it provides answers.
1. There have been alot of aphids owing to the mild weather. There is a short delay and then the ladybirds arrive en corresponding masse. Cosmetic damage only(particularly to the blackcurrants).
2. The weather has been mild, cool at nights and perhaps less sunshine hours. A -5 frost on the 12th December took out the courgettes in the garden and checked the potatoes. Most people around here just clip off the potato damage with hedge clippers.
3. The slow but steady growing conditions have really suited things like lettuce, not so much the heat lovers like yams.
The Hopi pumpkins in the glasshouse have these lovely big velvety soft saucer leaves. I wonder what the pumpkins will look like.
Further jobs over the last few weeks have included thinning the apples, plums and blackboy peaches. The latter I probably took off 3 out of 4 as it is the first year fruiting and the branches aren't robust enough to carry alot of fruit. Apples I reduced any clusters to one and plums just nicked out what I could reach to thin them out a bit. This can apparently be done with a stick, whack whack. If I'm not careful the whole fruiting spur comes off leaving...nothing. Sharp fingernails are a good tool.

This is one of the worst beds in the garden in terms of soil. The yams that were planted here rotted as the soil does not drain well. We double-dug and added sheep manure and ok, wood chips which I'm not fond of like this.  Originally they went into that base layer a spade depth down so out of sight. We turned one bed into these two narrow ones (a la Dirt Doctor) that are raised and rounded. I'm expecting that this will either help with drainage or the plants will dry out faster. One good one bad. That aside it has enabled me to plant more intensively. Bok choi in the foreground, winter cauli, red cabbage, kale, silverbeet down the row. Even if they come to nothing the soil will be better for the next crop because of it. Still a long way away from John Jeavons 'living sponge cake'; it will be achieved one crop at a time.

Leeks, of course. My seedlings seemed to just stand still this year. They've been so long in the pots that now they are starting to yellow off through lack of nutrient. See the beautiful dibble that has been a split wood handle in another life. The shears to choppity chop off the top few inches and reduce the roots to the same. Into the hole, a good pinch of blood and bone to give them a boost, water them in and they disappear like Alice down the hole into Wonderland. I planted the thinner ones that last year I would have tossed away,  in two or three to a hole.

It must be a Central Otago Christmas when you come home to a bowl of cherries. My dozen strawberry plants have taken the lead in the most useful for the least effort stakes, followed closely by Sweet Basil. For the easy stakes put Zuchinni up there but do you think we can keep up with them? No. For the very little return put in the yams that rotted, the yams that it was too cold for (another bed) and my own cherry tree. On the scale of things, it doesn't seem anything to complain about at all.   Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tying up loose ends

1. Kings seeds got back to me real fast and I immediately wished I had contacted them before pinching out all the growing tips on the Brandywine Pink.  The plants now look as if they have amputated limbs; which they do of course, and I see that I have foreshortened their productivity needlessly.
To quote Mr Martin, 'Brandywine Pink is one of the old tomatoes that didn't have a single stem leader bred into it, rather it takes the form of an indeterminate triffid that branches.'
Yes it does. Triffid is a good description.
'American home grdeners use an upright cage like a teepee for supporting these so the branching habit isn't an issue. They are worth preserving as they're a very tasty prolific tomato.'
Our tomatoes are strung from overhead and I have left one leader on some of them and a fruiting spur on each of the arms that were pinched out. This variety has grown the fastest and I expect them to have the first fruit ready.

The photos this week are by way of an aside. We visited the Dirt Doctor in Kakanui and were privileged to have a look around his garden. This is probably what it feels like to meet royalty. He was busy tying up tomatoes and delateraling and I knew exactly the spot he was in, leaving that to show us around. I thought of all the people I have talked to as I work without moving from the job and I was so pleased that he extended a bit more graciousness to us.
I've picked that photo of the brassicas to try and illustrate the amazing productivity of this relatively small garden. The vegetables crowd out the weeds, there's probably three times as much in his space as I would have in the same area.

Same garden, this section is right beside the sea and is surrounded by trees and shrubs to provide the first windbreak. Compost piles. No wasted labour here, they are right beside the garden, Jerusalem Artichokes to the right (Somebody out there must like them).

 2. Reporting back on the couch ('cooch', not a large sofa) that I had submerged in a barrel to drown. I put a lid on it to prevent an explosion of animal life. The nettle tea in the glasshouse had become a soup of rat tailed fly larvae that was particularly gross to dish out. However, the lack of oxygen was possibly the reason it went sour, really sour. Heaving in a bag of horse manure to speed things up may not have helped. Soon there was a white scum on top. I've incorporated some of it in a compost heap and ladled the rest around the fruit trees as a mulch. The couch looks as if it might spring back into life but it smelt absolutely dead. I hope this is the end of the story. Have cleaned out the hapless barrel and filled it up with seaweed and fresh water.

It was a hideously cold day. Is anyone surprised,  I had packed a few sacks in the car just in case we got the opportunity to collect seaweed.
3. Back to the question of the garden I want or the garden I can manage. Advice taken. I think I can have my cake and eat it too by redefining the 'manage' part. I'm thinking about taking small parts of the garden and doing them really well (the garden I want). Keep on recklessly planting seeds and put in what I can but leave
the rest (that's the manage part).

The bank drops away to the sea and Bill had to heave the seaweed over his head to get it up. Thank you kind friend. I had to keep my hands clean to take the photo. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Not Waving...

O.K we've been this way before. I'm luring you in because the next photo is frightening.  Admire the artichokes, smell the roses and brace yourself for the rest of the garden...
having solved the...
of the rhubarb...not waving but drowning.

Not Waving but Drowning (Stevie Smith)

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

The garden is on a slope and water merrily drains to the bottom. I moved the rhubarb down there to enjoy the moisture and despite reasonable encouragement it has never done well (over a couple of years). We had 12 mm of rain last week in a sudden downpour and this is the water level 5 days later. It was at surface level for several days. Our Swiss maestro had the sense to dig the hole and expose the problem and he suggests running a few field drains (basically a ditch with rocks in the bottom to draw off the moisture). I favour moving the rhubarb up a block or two this Autumn.  It would run across the slope and catch some of that water as it races down the hill on its clay slide, just below the surface.

  Having figured that lettuce like some shelter from the direct sun I have pocketed them in spare spaces. So far amongst the broccolli this is a good working arrangement. This is the Rueben from Otepoti and their broccolli 'Multicropper'; hoping it will live up to its name.
 You'll be pleased to know that I won a seed saving book in the Otepoti book draw. I had sent in seeds to qualify. Less happy are the seeds I am supposed to be growing out to save. One is a type of pepper and it will have to be 3rd time lucky with the last of the seed.  I can see me growing it indoors through the winter at this rate.

Farmer Rose out at Kyeburn put this box of mushrooms in the back of the car this week.  That is not a side plate but a dinner size by way of comparison. No worms in these champions and I freeze them rough sliced  like this to make that.  I shall now attempt a link.  Success, it's a cream of mushroom and bacon soup and absolutely delicious and I don't even like mushroom soup. Thanks Chef.
 Posted by Picasa