It’s been several months since I have been out in my garden. I have been working most weekends, and when I have had some time to work in the garden, it has been pouring with rain.
It was a perfect day to be out there, but the garden was a bit of a sad sight: weeds have had a happy time over the past eight weeks without me to diligently pull them out. I spent three or so hours out there, and the whole time I weeded and mulched the garden with compost.
The compost has been slowly maturing for the past couple of months. It was activated by the addition of horse and pigeon manure (both gifts from my awesome neighbour, John). It has been turned a couple of times in the past twelve weeks, but essentially it has been left alone. I use the black ‘Dalek’ style compost bins, which even in Winter heat up well enough to make great compost. I do have the space for these and I am physically fit enough to turn the compost every six weeks or so. When I am older, I will probably switch them out for a compost tumbler, which will be easier to manage as my already cranky hip gets crankier.
I don’t dig compost into the garden; rather I mulch the beds with it. After I weeded the veggie beds, I mulched over the beds with the compost. I was able to mulch about half my veggie garden with lovely compost.
The sun was gentle, the breeze was light, and I listened to gardening and food podcasts while I weeded and mulched. I picked radishes and rhubarb, and made a little radish pickle for funsies in the afternoon. It was so lovely to be out there again, if only for a few hours.
After several wet and stormy weekends, it was lovely to have a cool but sunshiny day to spend out in the garden. As it happened to also be Mother’s Day, I exercised my motherly rights and left all household tasks to my husband while I spent the entire day outside.
It was perfect.
I had many jobs that needed to be done. Due to the cold weather and an uptick in my workload (yay), I have only trotted outside to pick some salad leaves and check the brassicas for cabbage moth caterpillars. This is probably an exercise in futility: I keep squishing them and they keep coming back, but eventually I will end up with enough cabbages and broccoli for Springtime. The rest of the garden has been patiently waiting, and growing weeds, until a lovely, work-free day, for my attention.
First task was harvesting pumpkins. I grow Kent (also known as Jap) pumpkins. I use the term ‘grow’ somewhat loosely. I have never planted Kent pumpkins. They come up from the compost, happily seed themselves, and take over a spot, and I allow it. I don’t feed or water them. I do hand pollinate them if the bees don’t seem to be doing the job well enough, but once the fruit is set, I leave them alone until the weather starts to turn. Then I place a brick under each pumpkin so it is raised up from the damp soil and the base doesn’t rot. I wait as long as I possibly can into Autumn before picking.
To pick, use a strong knife to cut a couple of inches of stem (see below). Wipe over the pumpkin with a rag to remove excess moisture and dirt, and check the blossom end for any dried up bits of the pumpkin flower, and remove it. I usually store my pumpkins in a cool dry place – we have a cellar so that is perfect. They can keep for quite a while, but check every week for any softening spots or mould, particularly in thinner skinned varieties like the Kent. If you notice any softening, you can still eat it – just put it in the fridge and start planning pumpkin soup asap. If I have an excess of pumpkin, I often steam and purée the flesh and freeze it to use later in chocolate brownies, pasta sauces, and cannelloni.
Harvesting is easy. Removing the old pumpkin vine is not so easy. As I mentioned, I let the vine ramble across half the backyard, which means it is an enormous vine by harvest time. I cut it into smaller pieces with my gardening knife, and shove it piece by piece in the green bin. It had very long roots, so to dig it out I had to dig carefully around the base and then follow the roots back along the garden bed to fully remove. It was a very happy plant.
I have tried growing other pumpkin varieties, and nothing really grows as well in my yard as the compost-seeded Kent. When I deliberately plant a pumpkin and nurture the damn thing, I might get one or two pumpkins. As they take up so much space, it’s just not worth it. But the Kent is always reliable, and one vine produces around 5-8 lovely heavy pumpkins, averaging about 4kg in weight. Kent also taste good and have a nice texture, which is not guaranteed with some pumpkins.
Next on my list was to remove the old eggplant bushes, and turn the compost. My lazy hips were not really happy with me for all that digging and lifting, after so many days sitting in front of a keyboard, so I switched to lighter jobs: planting bulbs, seeds, and seedlings. I finished planting the bulbs I bought last month, finally planted sweet peas (Spencer Ripple and Hi-Scent), and lettuces (Tennis Ball and Freckles), red cabbage, and silverbeet (FordhookGiant). I thinned a few turnip and radish seedlings, and staggered back inside for a cup of tea and a cinnamon muffin by the fire, body aching, to watch my husband cut up one of our pumpkins for roast dinner. Happy Mother’s Day to me (and to all the awesome mothers out there, including my own wonderful Mother, my gorgeous sister, and the dear friends who play the role of Deputy Mothers to my kids).
There is something so relaxing about sitting in yon pumpkin patch. I think it is because pumpkins are the least demanding of all vegetables. Although I have pumpkin seeds, I rarely plant them. The pumpkin patch in my backyard is entirely self-seeded from compost, and that’s fine by me. I never water them. I never feed them. The closest I come to care and attention is the regular hand-pollination I do in the mornings while they are flowering, but I am not even doing that anymore (it’s getting too late in the season). Once they start fruiting, they require no further care. They quietly swell until they are ready to be picked.
By contrast, brassicas are fiddly and demanding beasts. I have to keep a close eye on the seedlings to fend off cabbage moth caterpillars. Today my eldest daughter and I spent a good twenty minutes scraping caterpillar eggs from cabbage and kale seedling leaves and squishing the occasional baby green caterpillar that had just emerged and was munching away. Whenever she saw a cabbage moth my daughter would wave it away, yelling “Go away, you monster!” That was entertaining, if fruitless.
Started trimming back woody herbs (mint, thyme, oregano, lavender) with my trusty plant chainsaw aka electric hedge trimmers. My friend calls electric hedge trimmers a ‘plant chainsaw,’ which I think sounds much more bad ass. This is a job that will take me days to do, given the overgrowth in the yard, so I am taking it a few bushes at a time;
Fell down the front steps while plugging in the plant chainsaw to charge. We have a big front staircase, and it was still slippery from yesterday’s rain. Ouch;
Cleared up some unwanted plants (self-seeded lavender and mint) and weeds (Oyster Plant and the dreaded creeping Oxalis) that were making themselves quite comfortable.
Dug up some lavender and geraniums for my sister to plant at her place. She specifically requested “unkillable.” Bless;
Removed the spent Love-In-A-Mist seed pods and was happy to see baby Love-In-A-Mist plants already popping up;
Spread some Calendula seeds about the place;
Checked out the pomegranates to see how they are ripening. Not much longer!
With my daughter’s help, planted out the garlic, and mulched it with chopped sugarcane straw;
Planted out some Curly Kale, after double-checking it for cabbage moth eggs;
Prepared a new planter box for Asian vegetables (most likely Pak Choy and Coriander);
Sat in the pumpkin patch, drank a coffee, and meditated on life for a bit.
My body is aching like hell, mostly because of the aforementioned fall down the stairs, but I feel good.
Tomorrow I will try hard not to be a clumsy goose, trim some more plants, and hopefully plant out the broccoli seedlings that are now looking lovely and ready to go.
When you shouldn’t be with people, and your workload has been reduced, what can you do?
Well some people might Netflix and chill, which is totally fine, but I can only do that for so long.
I paved the chook shed.
Our neighbour, John, helped us to build a new chook shed several months ago. The shed was almost ready to welcome new henny pennies, but to prevent foxes getting in, we needed to pave the floor. My husband has been intending to do it, but…well, just general life happened.
We have the pavers, the paving sand, etc. I decided to use my day yesterday to just do it.
Bear in mind I have never paved anything in my life. I have built a lot of lego towns though. It was pretty similar. Also, quite calming.
I stopped to chat with John over the fence. His big German Shepherd kept us the obligatory three or four metres apart. I told him what I was doing, and he was visibly shocked. John is a very precise, old school tradie, who builds all kinds of excellent structures in his garden. When I told him that no, I was not using a level, he just about died laughing.
Later I showed him this photo and he had to admit I had done a pretty good job.
John was lamenting that he had run out of horse manure, which he uses a lot in his garden (well-composted of course). I had spotted about thirty bags outside our local Riding For The Disabled location not long ago. John rushed out to pick some up, and dropped three bags in my front yard, bless him. I’ve said it before, but great gardening neighbours are worth their weight in gold/manure.
After I finished paving, I got rid of the now spent jalapeño chilli bushes, that at the end of the season are being attacked by white fly, and composted their soil. I don’t generally re-use potting mix, but I do compost it. That kills any nasties and makes sure that it is recycled. You can put it in the green bin if you don’t have compost.
Then I started on the boring but necessary task of washing all my pots ready for the Autumn planting. I wash my pots with heavily diluted metho (a solution of roughly 50:1 water:metho), and scrub them out. This kills any bugs and makes them ready to accept new soil and plants.
I wasn’t always so rigorous. I used to just rinse them a bit and toss new plants in. But I have learned over time that it pays to give the home you are putting new plants in a good clean, just as you would give a new home you were moving into a good clean.
It’s been a stressful week for, well, humanity. The best way I know to deal with the stress and worry for the health and wellbeing of self, family, friends and community is to get out into the fresh, hopefully coronavirus-free air and sunshine, and do something physical and practical. So after my standard Aussie panic buy yesterday (Toilet paper? Check. Pasta? Check.), I got out into the garden this morning to expend my ever-growing sense of plague-dread by ripping spent tomato plants out of the dirt and turning the compost.
A veggie patch, if you are fortunate enough to have the space to plant one, is a very good way to assuage apocalyptic terror, because you it makes you feel like you are doing something to prepare for the end of the world, even if that something is just planting cabbages. The truth is I can’t grow enough veggies to be self-sufficient for my family, and planting them now at the start of the Autumn growing season won’t do me much good if we are all sent into social isolation next week. But fear is psychological, so if I can do something busy that feels helpful and useful, and above all, fun, then I won’t feel so stressed about the fact that I might be stuck in my house with potentially no work (I’m self-employed), two kids, and a dwindling stock of toilet paper. I can watch my growing cabbages with the knowledge that cabbage leaves are lovely and soft and have potentially many uses 😉
So far almost all the seeds I planted in seed trays last week have come up and are looking healthy. Now to nurture them to seedling size before planting them out into larger pots before putting them in the garden. I like to transition them to a next stage pot before I move them to the garden, so they are lovely and strong before they go in the ground
I dug over the compost and tipped in a full bag of pigeon poo, given to me by my awesome neighbour, John. I tell you what, when society falls, I will do my best to save my neighbours. A bag of pigeon poo goes a long way when it comes to choosing who to put on the proverbial ark. Let’s face it, in the new world, diamonds won’t count for much, but the ability to make kick arse compost will be a valuable skill set.
Once all the old plants were removed from the garden beds, I dug everything over and raked it to a fine tilth, ready for planting. Next on my list is to plan my plantings. I have to be honest: I am not a planner when it comes to the garden. Normally, I just chuck plants in wherever they fit and hope for the best. Usually this works out pretty well, but I am running out of space now and I really want to maximise every inch of soil. So I have decided I am going to plan it properly this season to see if I can boost the productivity of my space. I am leaving each space I clear empty for now, until I can plan out exactly what I want to plant.
These are my non-negotiables:
Onions (spring, red, white);
Garlic (John gave me four bulbs he saved from season – what a legend);
Broccoli (green and Romanesco);
Carrots (white, orange, purple);
Peas (Snow and Sugar Snap).
I would like to grow broad beans (mostly for soil health), silverbeet, radishes, bok choy, climbing spinach, and cauliflower.
So not too much then.
All of this has to be grown around the fruit trees and perennials like rhubarb and strawberries.
I’ll post my sketch next week.
Finally, check out my pumpkin vine.
I love to grow pumpkins, but they are something you can really only grow if you have the luxury of space. Every year they take up half the backyard: I couldn’t get even half the vine in the picture. I have at least six lovely Kent pumpkins growing. They will be ripe just in time for pumpkins to come down to less than a dollar a kilo.
It was a stinker of a week here in our Southern states of Australia, with temperatures reaching 42 degrees C in my area before a windy cool change. I pre-emptively watered my garden ahead of the heat, with the hope of saving my newly planted tomatoes, chillies, eggplant, capsicum and zucchini. Last year, a one-day heat blast (48 degrees C) wiped out everything in one hit. Happily the intensive watering kept everything alive and well.
Next weekend I will be mulching heavily – a little late, but at least before Summer starts in earnest.
This is a dull, repetitive task that I put off – I would rather weed than dead-head flowering plants. However, it is a necessary task to keep flowering shrubs looking their best and flowering longer. Ideally I would do this about three times a year, but honestly it is more likely twice yearly. I have about 15 lavender bushes in my front yard; these have all reached the point that they need their semi-annual haircut. I spent an hour with the hedge trimmers chopping back four of these, including the largest of the English lavender bushes, a monstrous beast that is also encroaching the neighbour’s yard. I will leave the rest for the weekend.
Wait to dead-head, as the name suggests, when the flowers are mostly spent. You can see in the photo above that there are still a couple of fresh lavender flowers on the bush, but that the majority are dried out and dead. Try to choose a cooler day to dead-head if you can, to avoid stressing the plant. I chose a warm day, early in the morning, because that is when I had the time. Often gardening is about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.
At least trimming lavender smells divine, making a boring job a bit more pleasant. I also have three climbing roses, about a dozen calendula, sage bushes, thyme, oregano, and mint that all needs a tidy up. When I cut back the herbs, I will put them in my dehydrator to make mixed dried herbs. I usually live to regret this, as scrunching them up into jars afterward takes a long time. By the time I have pulled them off their stalks and put them into recycled jars, I end up with a disappointing amount of herbs for all my hard work. But I cannot bear to toss all those beautiful herbs in the compost, even though I know they are a renewable resource (unlike my time).
Feeding and Weeding
The rest of my time this week was spent digging compost out of the the second compost bin, side dressing all the tomatoes with a solid shovel of pelletised chicken manure each, giving the plants in pots a liquid feed of diluted worm wee, and weeding. At this time of year, the task of weeding is endless. Driving around the city, I see that the local councils are barely able to keep up with all the weeding. If they can’t do it, how can I manage it all?
The weather in Australia this past week can best be described as ‘whacked.’ In the East Coast, we have had bushfires raging across the state of New South Wales, with tragic loss of life and of property. In our Southern States, where I am lucky to live, we have had a cold snap, with wintry weather, strong winds, and rain. We had a hot day yesterday, and back down to wintry weather again. While I’m not complaining about the rain, it is pretty crazy to have weather like this in late Spring. I was at the supermarket yesterday, and two old guys (older than me, anyways) were complaining about climate change. I don’t know where the politicians get the idea that their more mature constituents don’t accept that climate change is real. They should be spending less time listening to Alan Jones and more time listening to the people buying bananas at Aldi. Climate change: it’s not just for the Gretas of the world (bless her). We are all affected and even we Gen Xers and OK Boomers accept the science. Unfortunately, the kids will have to deal with the effects long after the current crop of pollies have written their boring memoirs.
Even though the weather has turned chilly and windy again, I informed my husband that ‘by hook or by crook’ I was getting out in the garden again this morning. He thought I had finally lost the plot, and he is probably right, but this morning I got out there in my gardener’s clogs and turned the compost. I have the old style Dalek composters, and they do a brilliant job, especially in the warmer weather. They are helped along by compost worms. As I dig, I toss the worms back in the composter: they are not earthworms, so they really don’t want to be anywhere else. I am sure I missed a few, but I guess they make it back there eventually.
I have two composting bins. I dig them out every six weeks or so, removing the usable compost and replacing back the compost that still needs work. Then I keep adding more household scraps and other debris back on top. If I can get hold of some, I add some manure. Pigeon manure is the best, but chicken, donkey, or sheep is also good. I’ve even used rabbit manure in the compost bin. All manure should be well composted before placing on the garden. Fresh manure can burn plants and can contain undigested seeds that can germinate in the garden, leading to a weed problem. Some seeds can’t be destroyed even by composting: right now I have a crop of tomato plants popping up in the garden where I laid some compost recently. I will let them go until they are large enough, then plant them out somewhere else. I have also never met a pumpkin seed that didn’t survive composting. The past two years, all my best pumpkins have grown out of the compost.
I used the six buckets of compost to top up the potato pots, and to side dress asparagus, apple trees, and some tomato plants. I have another compost bin that also needs digging out; I’ll do it later in the week, weather permitting.
Finally, I started planting out zucchini plants that I have been hardening off in small pots. As I mentioned in the last post, I have decided to abandon my long tradition of planting them in mounds, and opted to plant in wells or troughs to help the plants to better retain water.
Tomorrow I will try to find space for the rest of the zucchini, plant some climbing beans, and give all the lavender plants a haircut. I don’t want to trim them, but they are starting to look ratty. If I give them a trim now, they will probably flower again this Summer, to the joy of the native bees that love to visit.
You think when you start to work from home that you will have all the time in the world. I had a vision that I would spend half my days in the garden, followed by a couple of hours work in the afternoon.
That turned out to be a fantasy of epic proportions. I still am very much the Part-time Gardener. I could be the Full-time Gardener, if I didn’t want to foolishly pay my mortgage and continue to fund this new-fangled electricity all the kids are talking about. So, weekend gardening is mostly still what I have time to do.
This weekend was mostly about soil preparation for Summer fruiting vegetables: tomatoes, eggplant, and capsicum. I cleared the lettuce field to make space for Summer veggies (probably for tomatoes, but possibly pumpkins), and then dug over the two compost bins. Being a strange one, I love to dig over compost bins. It’s so satisfying to see what has happened to all that waste. Like most of us, I diligently recycle, but it feels kind of futile. After listening to the news, podcasts, and watching TV shows about what has happened to the waste stream over the past couple of years, I don’t really believe that what I am putting in my kerbside recycling bin is actually being recycled. I feel like I am doing it because I hope that the right thing is happening. But with my own compost, I can see home recycling in action, from start to finish: it’s a beautiful closed loop.
Anyway, I dug out two full barrow loads of lovely compost, which I dug into the old lettuce field (to explain how ‘closed’ the closed loop is – some of the old lettuce plants I pulled out a couple of weeks ago had already broken down into compost and were dug into the lettuce field. I mean, really – how cool is that?). I sprinkled pelletised chicken manure over the top and raked it, and I have let it sit now for a week. It has rained for several days this week, so by next weekend it will be perfect for planting some veggies.
And while I was having all that fun, my husband had the Sisyphean task of shifting massive moss rocks from the backyard to the front. Poor bugger.
A few weeks ago we moved a raised garden bed to the front yard to make room for the retaining wall (yep, it’s still going). After filling it with compost, potting soil and mulch, we let it sit for a few weeks until I was ready to plant.
I bought six punnets of seedlings about six weeks ago, and separated them all into pots filled with a mix of coir and potting mix. Six weeks ago in our neck of the woods, the soil was still too cold for tomatoes, and many of my Spring veggies were not ready to come out. If I had planted out those seedlings, they likely would have died from cold, or would have been eaten by slugs. By potting them on, I have given them time to develop a lovely strong root system (see photo below). Also, they have had time to sit outside in my garden, acclimatising to the conditions in my yard. Now they are used to the specific micro-ecosystem of my garden, they will be much stronger than if I had just planted them straightaway.
This doesn’t work for everything. It works really well for fruiting plants like tomatoes, capsicums and eggplant, but I wouldn’t try it on plants like sweet corn or beans, which are much better planted direct where they are to grow.
In the raised bed I planted capsicum, jalapeños and basil. In large pots, I planted more of the same. I am also trying potatoes in pots this year, as I have run out of space to grow potatoes.
I am trying potatoes in a pot large enough to grow a tree. I put a layer of potting mix on the bottom, and then placed three certified seed potatoes (we like Ruby Lou):
I covered just over the potatoes with more soil. As the potato plants grow, I will top up the soil. I have never grown potatoes in a container before, so we will see how they go. If it fails, I am only out some soil and a few seed potatoes.
The rest of my gardening time this weekend was spent weeding. So much weeding. The green bin and both compost bins are completely full. And still more to go!
I love Easter. It’s easily my favourite holiday. I love the traditions; the food (Hot Cross Buns! Chocolate – and I don’t care what anyone says, the chocolate at Easter tastes different and better); the four days off; catching up with family and friends. I love that we have enough time to spend time with family, veg out a little, and still have time to get a few things done around the house and garden without feeling rushed or stressed like you often do at Christmas.
This year in the lead up to Easter weekend, I had the plague an upper respiratory viral infection for several weeks and as a result, I have not been able to do anything except grumble in the direction of my poor, sad garden. Autumn has been very warm and dry, and everything just looks thirsty and in need of some TLC. I had a ton of jobs on my list but no energy for heavy gardening labour as I recovered from what the doctor assured me was a “flu like virus” but what I feel certain was the second coming of the Black Death. It was so bad we had to cancel a planned holiday so I could catch up on all the work I missed. I’m pretty cranky about it, when all is said and done.
This has been a Public Service Announcement to have your annual flu shot. Apparently I did not have the flu but one of a family of ‘flu like viruses.’ All I can say is, jab my arm.
Anyway, I did survive, and decided to take it slowly by doing a little gardening every day, interspersed with Hot Cross Buns and Season 6 of Game of Thrones. Gently does it. Don’t want to end up looking like a White Walker.
Day One (Good Friday) we went on our annual pilgrimage to the Easter Fair in the tiny country town of Meadows (regular population: 1300, Easter weekend population: one million). This event is a classic country fair, complete with Marshmallow Bunnies, Hot Donuts cooked while you wait, sausage sizzle, white elephant stalls, and Nanna-made pickles and jams. I have a list of items I buy each year (Marshmallow Bunnies and Hot Donuts, natch), which includes plants and bulbs. This year I was looking for interesting succulents for my lounge room. I bought some beautiful German-made succulent pots in Melbourne and have been looking for the right plants to put in them. I found them for the low, low price of $6 each, along with Daffodil and Iris bulbs. Unfortunately I have no idea about succulents so I do not know what all of them are called.
Day Two, after we ate the Hot Cross Buns from the Easter Fair and made a trip to the brand new ENORMOUS Bunnings (So big! So green!), I potted up the new succulents in my fancyschmancy German pots and then spent a ridiculous amount of time arranging them on the shelf.
A note on the Big New Green Shed: it’s the same as all the others. There, now I have found that out so you don’t have to. You’re welcome. I did pick up more bulbs (ranunculus, anemone and freesias to sprinkle around the garden like Easter eggs), and blue sweet pea seeds. Sweet peas are my favourite flower, and I always plant them on Anzac Day as my mother taught me. I have three varieties to plant this year: Bijou (saved seed from last year, that I plant each year and is constantly excellent), a variety called Surprise (purchased from last year’s Easter Fair), and this blue variety. I also have poppies, kale, cauliflower, romanesco and green sprouting broccoli, leeks, lettuces and silverbeet to plant.
Adorable children visited and chocolate and Marshmallow Bunnies were handed out to much joy. Easter rocks.
Day Three (Easter Sunday), started with a Hot Cross Bun and a Salted Caramel Lindt Ball, reminding me again of why this is my favourite holiday, and a visit to an adorable three year old to hand over more sugary treats.
Our backyard soil needs considerable work after its hard slog over the Summer. I dug over the compost and pulled out a nice lot of compost for one section. Then I spread Rapid Raiser and Blood and Bone fertiliser over the bed I am planting garlic this year, and watered in well. Tomorrow I will dig in some cow manure, then let it sit until Anzac Day when I will take four bulbs of our precious homegrown garlic and plant it for the new season. Homegrown garlic tastes so much better than bought garlic, that it is always worth leaving room for it in the garden.
My husband de-seeded five very seedy lettuce plants that I had left to form seed heads, picking off thousands of tiny lettuce seeds. We will plant them out on Anzac Day as well. While he was doing that, I weeded and trimmed back some of the boysenberry canes for safety and tidiness.
The boysenberry and I have a love/hate relationship. Last year was only its second year, and it fruited quite well with very little care required. Its thorns prevented pests like birds pinching any, so we actually got a nice little crop. Those thorns though make it very painful to prune and manage, and like all brambles, it spreads like crazy. I dug out many rooted brambles today and potted them up in case anyone else (friends, enemies) wants Audrey II a delicious berry plant in their backyard.
Tomorrow is Easter Monday, the last day of a lovely, relaxing weekend. I plan to tidy up my dry, weedy front yard, feed all the plants, and plant some seeds into my seed trays for Winter veggies (a little late but given how hot it has been this Autumn, I think it will be fine). After that, I reckon I will have just enough room for one more Hot Cross Bun before bidding farewell to another glorious Easter weekend.
It’s been a couple of years now since my grandmother passed away, and finally the roses I planted in memory of both sets of grandparents have started to flourish. The climbing MrLincoln rose was planted in memory of my grandmother who passed away when I was 16. I have also planted a climbing PierredeRonsard and climbing GoldBunny, with the aim of having them climb the front of our house. They have all taken some time to establish, especially the GoldBunny, which seems quite miserable most of the time. My grandfather’s GoldBunny was magnificent, so I am hoping that mine will get over its current state and grow to be as beautiful as his was. By far, the happiest is the PierredeRonsard, which has already produced about a dozen beautiful blooms. The red rose pictured is the first of the MrLincoln roses we have had. My husband and I were so happy to see it appear. These plants are important to me as a living memorial of grandparents that each passed a love of gardening on to me.
Time in the garden has been rare over the past couple of weeks. I have been busy with work and family, and I am travelling for work again this week. Coupled with the intense heat we have experienced this Summer, my garden is looking quite sad.
This Summer has been one of the hottest on record, and we recorded the hottest day on record. We have had almost no rain to speak of. This has affected my vegetable garden more than the rest of the garden, which is well established. We almost lost a newly planted avocado tree, but my husband’s careful watering and shading of the tree has enabled it to recover, thank goodness. We did lose all our tomato plants in the end, which really grinds my corn. We had a great early start with the tomatoes, and then a week of intense heat with temperatures over 45 degrees, including a day of 47 degrees, really knocked them. Some plants died outright, and the rest never recovered. They continued producing fruit but the fruit didn’t properly mature. Even the chilli and zucchini plants, which are usually reliable producers, failed to produce.
The corn I planted this year produced, but cobs were smaller. Beans produced very few pods compared to previous years. We have plenty of pollinators in our garden, so I do not believe that was the problem. The soil was prepared properly, in the usual way. I believe that it was not possible for us to water enough to replace the loss of moisture caused by the extreme heat.
There were a couple of successes, however. Pumpkins sow themselves in our garden, popping up out of the compost. I let them ramble, because I have the space. I figure if they produce some pumpkins, that’s great, and if they don’t I have not lost anything. The vines help suppress the weeds and shade the soil.
Last year I grew Kent (also known as ‘Jap‘ in Australia) which I did plant, and Butternuts, which popped up on their own. This year, I appear to be growing a Kent-Butternut hybrid! It has the shape of a Butternut but the skin markings and colour of a Kent. I have not seen this before (others probably have) but for now I am calling it a Kenternut. Or should I call it a Butterkent? Either way, it is fruiting pretty prolifically and we are looking forward to trying it.
I’ll save some seeds of this mutant and see if I can grow it again next year.
The rhubarb plants I divided a couple of years ago have been growing great guns. I divided them again this weekend, as the plants are enormous and becoming crowded – something I might live to regret considering it is going to be another week of 40-plus degrees. We are eating rhubarb every week at this point, even in the Summer. I know some people don’t like it, but I have always loved the stuff. It’s best baked with some maple syrup and strawberries, served with custard.
Dividing rhubarb is very easy. Just dig up the plant, and hack it in half (or more) with a spade. Make sure each crown has a bit of root. Replant each piece. I have even planted a rhubarb crown I found on the ground several weeks after I dropped it there, and it still grew. It is pretty hard to stuff it up, which is why I am not too worried about doing it this week even in the hot weather.
The passionfruit (classic black) exploded with fruit this year. Our passionfruit vine is named Odette. We take great care of her, feeding and watering her regularly. She is enormous, brilliant green, and very healthy. This year she rewarded us with hundreds of passionfruit. We have given some away, frozen it, and of course, eaten it. My husband loves it, and so does our neighbour, so there is always someone willing to eat it daily. I freeze it in ice cube trays for when the weather is cooler. Then I will make passionfruit slice (my favourite) and shortbread.
The pomegranate tree (Pomegranate Azerbaijan) is producing for the first time. Having never grown them before, we were unsure how long it would take to produce (this is its third year). A major storm in September knocked the tree sideways, and we thought we had lost it. I staked it and it was able to recover. We are very much looking forward to our first pomegranates. Mostly I just love looking at them on the tree. They are so beautiful.
This Summer we also had our first real boysenberry crop. Afterwards, I pruned the spent canes and then had the fun job of disposing of the prickly prunings. Boysenberries are thorny and unpleasant vines, but I think this is why we were able to keep so many of the berries for ourselves instead of losing them to birds. No bird was brave enough to get in there and pinch one. I don’t blame them, being pricked by those thorns really hurts. I was stabbed on more than one occasion.
Finally this weekend, I turned the compost, and dug out the fresh compost to spread around the roses and newly divided rhubarb. I gave an extra helping to the GoldBunny rose, in the hope that it will cheer the poor thing up.
For the next couple of weeks until the cooler weather sets in, we are on a care and maintenance plan for the garden. I am considering trialling a different planting regime for Autumn and Winter, given the change to the seasons we experienced last year: longer warm weather, much less rain, dry Winter. I think home gardeners need to adapt to climate change, but I am not sure yet how to do it. Our traditional practice of Autumn planting and Sprint planting needs to change. Any ideas?