Happy New Year! I hope that everyone has been enjoying the festive season, as well as their summer gardens. I only took a short break of a week away at our bach this year. I initially intended to be away for two weeks but returned home early on the 23rd of December as the weather wasn’t very nice. Besides, I really wanted to be home for Christmas. After all, it’s about spending time with family!
The big news in my gardening update is that on Christmas Eve, I found out that I was placed Runner Up in the Yates Veggie Gardening Challenge for the best use of Yates products. The prize is $200 worth of Yates products! As a first-timer to the Challenge, I am very pleased with this outcome. Spring was an incredibly busy time. Blogging nearly every day, managing the garden and fitting in my training were all challenging enough, so merely participating in the competition was one of my achievements in 2018.
Over the past week, I have been in a mad rush to try and put in as many of my remaining plants as possible. I try hard to keep planting to an absolute minimum in January because temperatures usually increase considerably and there is very little rain (if any at all), making it harder to get plants off to a strong start.
Here is a summary of the tasks that I powered through since returning home:
What has everyone else been up to in their garden lately?
You may recall that awhile ago, I wrote a post about safety around the garden. I wanted to follow it up with a brief post about injury prevention. I see a personal trainer at the gym for an hour every week, primarily to help me with my weight loss journey. I’m also very prone to injuries, sometimes arising from the gym and running but more commonly from gardening activity because I labour so intensively and for such long periods of time, especially in spring. I thought PT would be a good idea so I could address the cause of the issues, as physio only treats the actual injury. As I have mentioned previously, I suffer from neck problems stemming from a tight trapezius and sore wrists stemming from tightness in the forearms. According to my physio Anthony at Flex Physio in Papatoetoe, both of these injuries can be attributed to gardening rather than the gym or running. Another problem I suffer from is that one of my shoulders sits lower than the other, something that was picked up by a chiropractor that I saw for awhile and also Alice, my personal trainer. We have been doing some exercises, including the farmer’s walk (walking with two heavy kettle bells in each hand, facing outwards) to try and rectify this problem.
At my last training session on Wednesday, Alice had a couple of suggestions on how to improve my posture while gardening to minimise injuries. I thought I would share them as they may be useful to others.
1. Stand up every 15 minutes or so after bending over while carrying out activities such as weeding, to avoid neck and back injury
2. Avoid carrying a weight in just one hand. It is better to carry weights evenly so it is distributed on both sides. If carrying compost or potting mix, I now make sure I fill two buckets and carry one in each hand. When I was liquid feeding the garden on Thursday, I filled two 9 L watering cans and carried them both to the area where I was working, rather than just using one can.
I’ve been very busy in the garden over the past few days! Tasks I managed to complete include:
A few days ago, I found some goat’s cheese reduced to half price at the supermarket. I bought it, knowing that I would find a delicious recipe to use it in. Failing that, we could always add it to a simple salad with green leaves, beetroot and walnuts. Then the idea of stuffing zucchini blossoms with the goat’s cheese came to me. A quick search on google for recipes confirmed that this is a very popular way of eating them. At the moment, our zucchini production is in full swing in the garden and there are tons of huge yellow flowers on the plants. I’ve never made stuffed zucchini blossoms myself, but ate them at a restaurant in the South of France once. They were delicious. In New Zealand, they’re not the kind of thing that you would commonly find in restaurants, probably only in certain very high-end ones if you’re extremely lucky and even then, only seasonally. I understand that it’s possible to find zucchini blossoms in some farmer’s markets abroad if you wanted to have a go at making them at home but I don’t think they’re available here in NZ. If you want to make these delicacies, you’ll probably have to grow your own zucchini in the garden, which is pretty easy to do. For my tips on growing zucchini, please click here.
Around midday today, I picked a dozen male flowers from our plants. I left the female flowers on the plants, as they’re the ones that produce fruit. If production isn’t a concern for you, then by all means use some of the female flowers, too. Male flowers are needed in order to pollinate the female flowers, so it’s a good idea to leave a couple in the garden so the bees can do their work or you can use them to pollinate the female flowers by hand after you’ve picked them.
Once you’ve picked the flowers, it’s not that difficult to prepare the flowers. First, I washed them in a bowl filled with water and gently patted them dry with a tea towel. I then removed the green spikes near the base and the stamen inside the blossom with a sharp knife. To get inside, you may need to gently prise open the flowers by the petals.
While I was preparing the flowers, mum prepared the ingredients for the stuffing. She mixed together 100g of goat’s cheese, some Himalayan sea salt, paprika, black pepper (mum stamped some peppercorns) and olive oil. Mum then carefully opened each blossom, inserting some of the mixture inside. We chose to bake our blossoms in the oven which is a bit healthier than frying them, but this is another method you may wish to use as it is very delicious done this way too! We baked ours at 200 degrees centigrade for 15 minutes.
The verdict? Simply divine. We’ll definitely be making these beauties again
Here's a selection of photos I took on my daily stroll around the garden. As you can see, everything is growing rapidly!
I can’t believe we have finally reached the end of the Yates Veggie Growing Challenge! It doesn’t seem that long ago when it was the beginning of Spring and I signed up, wondering what I had gotten myself into. It’s a miracle that I didn’t have a relapse and managed to see the competition through to the end. I strongly encourage other gardeners to take part in future, assuming of course that the challenge will continue to run every spring (you can’t take anything for granted!). Benefits of participating include:
But by far the best thing I got out of the challenge was the discipline that it instilled in me, mainly through regular blogging. This has actually helped me with other areas of my life, especially ones which I had been struggling with for some time. I love routine, so I applied what I learnt about the importance of consistency to my fitness programme, managing to shed more weight (which I needed to do for a long time) and competing in the YMCA 10k series every week. I have two more runs left before Christmas (there should have only been one but they decided to add an extra one at our last race!). The second half kicks off in mid-January and runs (excuse the pun) until daylight saving ends in April. I hope to see it through to the end, just like our summer garden which will probably finish about the same time. Working on these two different projects in parallel has required some juggling so I could fit them both in but I’ve found they have actually complemented each other nicely.
With regard to the garden, there’s still a lot on my “to do” list which is frustrating, but as the managing partner of the law firm I worked for in Paris used to say, we are where we are. Over the past two days, I harvested our garlic (a terrible crop, but I was expecting that because of the rust) and Liseta potatoes. I need to power through the following tasks over the next few days:
Good luck to participants in the challenge. You all deserve a huge pat on the back for taking part. It wasn’t easy, but we got there in the end. Have a good Christmas and happy new year. Enjoy some rest over the summer and of course the fruits of your labour! Don’t forget to actually enjoy your garden (that is, in addition to enjoying working in it, like I do).
If you’re keen to continue to follow my progress, here’s the link to my gardening blog: https://www.anitakundu.co.nz/blog. You can also follow the pictorial progression of our garden as it evolves through the seasons on Instagram. My account is https://www.instagram.com/anitakundu.nz/. I have a Facebook page too. The link is https://www.facebook.com/anitasgarden.nz/ (or you can try searching for “Anita’s Garden”).
My final photo is of yesterday’s harvest.
In my last post, I outlined my goals around the garden for 2019. The biggest one is to gradually phase out the use of non-organic methods and substances. Why the concern with being organic now, when I have been gardening for five years? It started rather innocently, using the odd fertiliser here and there. I always took pride in the fact that I didn’t use sprays on edibles, only the roses. I called myself a “spray-free” veggie gardener. Then when I added our mini orchard, I had to start using a fungicide to prevent brown rot and leaf curl on our stone fruit, as well as grease spots on the passionfruit. I chose Yates Liquid Copper. I had to start using it on our celery in order to prevent rust and it looks like I’ll have to spray the garlic with it too from now on, if this year’s rust on the crop is anything to go by. I know Liquid Copper is supposed to be organic, but all this does beg the question of what is the point of going to the effort of growing our own veggies if they have been sprayed, as I am using some non-organic sprays too, such as Success and Mavrik. I suppose at least I know what products I’m using on them. Homegrown veggies are also always fresher than store bought ones. Still, I need to re-think a lot of the products I am using around the garden. Even if I can’t meet the standard of being certified organic, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t strive for this rather elusive and perhaps unrealistic goal. As I said in a previous post, sometimes you need to be happy with 90% if that’s the best you can do in the circumstances.
In order to achieve goals, you need to develop a strategy, that is, identify some concrete steps that you plan to take in order to get there. It’s helpful to break it down this way, otherwise it all becomes too daunting! Here are some specific measures I have identified I’d like to take around the garden next year:
Today’s photo is of another Christmas lily which is currently flowering in the garden. This one is Lily Regale, also from NZ Bulbs.
Now is a good time to start thinking about goals for next year. What changes do you want to make around your garden? Here’s a list of what I would like to achieve next year:
From here, I need to draw up a list of some concrete steps I need to take to implement my plan. I am starting to develop a new vision for the garden. If I scale down production, it will free up some time so I can actually improve the garden. Sometimes, less is more. Who knows, down-sizing a bit might even increase productivity. In time, I would like to eventually phase out the use of non-organic substances. To eliminate their use completely is perhaps too elusive and unrealistic a goal for me at the moment, but every journey begins with a single footstep, as the saying goes. Even if I can’t achieve this in 2019, I’d like to at least start working towards it. Some goals are long term and change takes time. Bear in mind that the ground needs to be organic too, so it may take awhile to cleanse the soil of non-organic matter. Changes might have to be rolled out in stages. Being organic doesn’t mean using nothing in the garden. Plants need more than sunshine and water in order to grow well. There are two parts to this: (i) below the surface ie the soil; and (ii) above ground level. For a start, the soil must be properly nourished. I attended a workshop on growing fruit trees in city gardens run by Kings Plant Barn a couple of years ago. Some advice that really stuck with me was that if you get the soil right, everything else will follow. Next, I need to research and test products so I can find effective alternatives for nourishing plants and controlling pests and diseases.
It has occurred to me that some of my goals complement each other nicely. For example, if I start a composting system, I can ensure that the end-product is organic. This will help me towards phasing out the use of non-organic substances in the garden. Saving seeds within this environment will ensure that the seeds I use are organic, too. When I conduct research into gardening issues, I could write up a little note of my findings to post to my blog. That way, I’ll also have a record for future reference.
Finally, just a little note on new year’s resolutions. If the year doesn’t start out well, it’s never too late to take control at any stage. Don’t let time pass you by without getting what you want from it! This happened to me this year in a different context. My weight was continually creeping upwards, but it was only in July that I came up with a new strategy. I changed gyms and decided to compete in the YMCA 10k series. In just five months, I have managed to make a lot of progress, maybe more than I could have made in a whole year. There’s nothing like the feeling that time’s running out to spur you into action (not to mention the threat of being put on meds for diabetes)! Also, don’t be afraid to re-visit your list and revise your goals at any time.
In my next post, I’ll outline some of the concrete steps I have so far identified I need to take in order to put my plan into action. In the meantime, here’s a photo of one of our Christmas lilies which has just started flowering. It is called Triumphator and I got it from NZ Bulbs.
In my previous post, I described how self-sufficiency was my focus for 2018 and outlined some of my successes. As you might recall in an earlier blog post, there have been many crop failures, too. Most of my beetroot and radish failed to bulb and the garlic developed rust. The greenhouse, while a warm environment for seedlings offering protection from the cold, also became a breeding ground for pests and disease as temperatures increased in spring. After some bad experiences, we decided to stop hosting wwoofers. Some of our neighbours are very nosy, which really annoys me. Some people ask too many personal questions and need to learn to mind their own business. What concerns me most is some of the sacrifices I have had to make in order to increase productivity in the garden. There is always a price to pay for achieving what you want in life. I have had to become a bit ruthless, but I’m pleased that the expansion of our veggie garden hasn’t come at the expense of reducing the amount of ornamentals we have. In fact, in winter, I added 13 standard roses to the garden, mainly David Austin varieties. Difficult decisions I have made along the way include:
Should self-sufficiency be my goal at any cost, even if it compromises many of my personal gardening principles? One of the problems I have with my current operation is that it’s a bit like running a business and only caring about the turnover. It’s not just quantity that matters. The quality of the end-product and processes used to procure it are important, too. For me, there has to be integrity in what I’m doing, whether it’s being a lawyer, selling plants in a boutique nursery run from home or trying to put food on the table. In trying to be self-reliant for veggies, I feel that I’ve had to compromise too many personal values. Furthermore, the current model isn’t really sustainable long term. As I have mentioned in a previous post, managing such a large garden on my own demands a great deal of time, effort and expense. In earlier posts, I’ve also opened up about how exhausting running this self-sufficiency operation is and the toll it has taken on my physical health, including the onset of RSI. But it has been an interesting and worthwhile project. I certainly don’t regret stepping up to the challenge and I have learnt a great deal in the process. I’m pleased with the progress I have made around the garden this year but there is room for improvement. I may well down-size in future to make the garden more manageable, especially if my health deteriorates. If we can no longer be self-sufficient, what is an acceptable alternative for us? What has become clear to both of us is how much we value and enjoy eating fresh produce from the garden. Indeed, there is no point of having an edible garden if you don’t eat what you grow. We certainly don’t want to decrease our intake of veggies or this might compromise our health. We both have good control over diabetes and don’t want this to change. We could perhaps try to supplement veggies grown in a smaller garden with locally grown produce from a farmer’s market like Simone does. This is one idea. I’m sure there are others. I need to give this some more thought.
I’ll continue this thread tomorrow with an outline of my goals for next year. Today’s photo is of the Swift and Rocket potatoes that I harvested over the weekend.
As the year and the Yates Veggie Growing Challenge draws to a close, I thought this might be a good time to write a little report of my achievements and set backs around the garden for 2018, as well as setting some goals for next year.
Since reading about Lynda Hallinan’s self-sufficiency exercise in the NZ Gardener magazine some years ago, I became enchanted by the concept of urban homesteading - the process from plot to pot to plate on a suburban-sized section. Why go to all this effort, you may ask? After all, New Zealand is a first world country, where food is readily accessible. Countdown and Pak n Save are 10 minutes by foot from our house, not to mention more green grocers than I could possibly count. If ever there was a need for self-sufficiency, it would be at our bach at Tauranga Bay in the far north, where the nearest decent supermarket is a 40 minute drive away in Kerikeri. The reasons for my fascination with homesteading are simple. I enjoy gardening, which became very therapeutic in light of some health issues which surfaced in my early 30s. After I started veggie gardening, we started to eat more veggies. This helps both of us to control Type 2 diabetes without medication. What is important to me is that I know how the veggies I eat were grown and what has gone into them. I’m conscious that growing our own food has reduced our carbon footprint and is my small contribution towards protecting the environment. I also think we take the supply of food for granted. There have been issues in recent years which resulted in the unavailability of some items in supermarkets – a shortage of potatoes a few years ago and shipping problems with bananas more recently, as well as diseases such as listeria in bagged lettuce and the finding of needles in punnets of strawberries imported from Australia. Growing your own veggies ensures a safer food supply.
We have had the garden for five years now. In that time, I have learnt the basics of seed sowing, raising seedlings and caring for plants as our garden kept expanding in size. It was only in 2018 that my vision of self-sufficiency crystallised. Just to be clear, the goal was never complete self-sufficiency, which would be difficult to achieve on a plot our size and with limited manpower (just me working in the garden, now that we no longer host wwoofers). But just because you are unable to attain 100%, it shouldn’t deter you from striving for 90% and being satisfied with that, especially if that’s the best you can do in the circumstances. Despite having a relapse in February and being sick for two months, we still managed to have a highly productive winter garden. I was unwell at the critical time for sowing and raising seedlings, but the plants I purchased and planted in April after cleaning up the summer garden did very well indeed, supplying us with most of our veggie needs in the cooler months. We only needed to purchase potatoes in winter. Now that I have discovered that it is possible to grow potatoes during winter and will experiment whether it is also possible to grow them in autumn, we may be able to rely on our own crop for most of the year which is an exciting development for us. In previous years, I noticed that there was always a gap in early spring, when the winter veggies had all been harvested but the spring and summer veggies were not yet ready for picking. I tried to rectify this problem by planting a second round of cabbages and broccoli in June and July. They matured in September and October, supplying us with veggies at a time when the garden had previously been quite sparse. Early in the year, I dreamt of having a mini strawberry farm on our front lawn, so we didn’t need to drive to the one near the airport. I needed a large quantity of plants for my project, so I sourced 120 bare-rooted runners from a commercial grower in Katikati. Since September, we have been harvesting the juiciest, sweetest strawberries ever grown in our garden. For the first time, we have had a place to raise seedlings in spring, after our old spa pool room was converted into a greenhouse by my uncle. I’m pleased that even though the garden is crammed with plants (some of which are probably too close together), there is a better layout this year. I had a plan for where I was going to put different veggies which I stuck to, rather than planting in a hotchpotch fashion as in previous years. I also decided to enter the Yates Veggie Growing Challenge for the first time, having previously put it into the “too hard basket”. Spring is an incredibly busy time for gardeners. Blogging regularly and maintaining the garden by myself has been hard work, but the rewards have been real. As I mentioned in a previous post, there is a strong sense of community here. I have learnt so much from other participants and Sarah. Being able to see the challenge through to the end has been an achievement in itself. I was lucky that I didn’t have a relapse, which would have meant having to drop out part way through. What has surprised me is how despite being so busy with the garden this year, I finally managed to shift some of the excess weight I have been carrying. Over the past 5 months, I have lost nearly 24 kilos and am participating in the YMCA 10k Summer Series every week. Greater productivity from the garden and an increased consumption of veggies, not to mention all the activity in the garden, has no doubt played a major part in this.
I will continue this post tomorrow. Today’s photo is of our café au Lait dahlia, which is now flowering. The lovely team at Bulbs Direct kindly gave me this tuber and I will be following up on its progress throughout the summer on my blog and social media.