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.
You may recall me mentioning in yesterday’s post that I planted a tray of snake beans into the garden (see photo of my seedlings). I managed to plant the rest of my punnets today. Snake beans need a very hot long summer in order to grow and crop, so I wouldn’t bother if your climate is only marginal. I can get away with growing them in Auckland but even then, I wouldn’t say they exactly crop prolifically. They tend to crop quite late in the season too – expect to be harvesting snake beans in March and April. It’s still not too late to get snake beans going if you haven’t already. I already had seeds left over from last year when I ran my little plant nursery. Manukau is a very cosmopolitan area and snake beans were one of my best sellers. I had to purchase a big bulk bag from Kings Seeds to keep up with customer demands!
The advice contained in my earlier post on growing beans applies, but here are a few more tips:
We enjoy making thai fish cakes with our snake beans. Here is the recipe we like using.
1. Cook the fish first
2. Place the fish in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add the coriander, cornflour, fish sauce, sweet chilli sauce and egg, and process until well combined
3. Transfer the fish mixture to a large bowl. Add the shallot and beans and stir until well combined. Divide the fish mixture into equal portions and shape into patties. Spray with some oil. Bake in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 25 minutes
4. Serve with lime wedges and extra sweet chilli sauce. Enjoy!
With more rain on the horizon, the soil will be nice and damp. Now is the perfect time to get sowing and planting! There are some sunny days forecast afterwards, meaning that your plants will just take off. If you haven’t started your summer garden yet it’s still not too late to plant most veggies. I wouldn’t bother starting from seed at this point personally. Head on down to your nearest garden centre and get some plants to pop into your patch or you can order them online from Awapuni, who send them to your door wrapped in newspaper.
Over the past three days, I managed to achieve quite a bit around the garden:
Action list for the coming days
What has everyone else done recently around the garden? What is still outstanding on your task list?
I finally have my own kumara slips, which are ready to be planted in the garden (see photo). I’ve been through a lot to get here. Better late than never! You may recall me mentioning that one of my failures this spring was kumara, as they didn’t sprout in the greenhouse. In September, I had buried a few kumara in a trough filled with some potting mix, which I kept moist. For a long time, there was no action but about three weeks ago, they started to do their thing and developed shoots! You can’t rush mother nature and I resisted the temptation to purchase slips from Awapuni just to hurry things along, because I knew that I’d only end up losing them due to the extremely temperamental weather we’ve had this spring. A week ago, I picked off the shoots and potted them up in another trough, which I kept outdoors in our patio. I checked on them today and sure enough, the slips had formed roots so they’re ready to be planted into the garden now.
You might also recall me mentioning in a previous post that I haven’t had much luck growing kumara over the years except the first one, which was a case of beginner’s luck. Not knowing very much about veggie gardening at all, I simply plonked some slips in the ground with no bed preparation beforehand (but after doing some research it seems that this was the right thing!). It was late too – about mid-december. In April, I harvested enormous tubers but somehow in subsequent years I have never been able to replicate my success. I’ve already chosen the site. I’m pulling out a row of strawberries that aren’t very productive – not my plants from the commercial grower in Katikati (those are cropping incredibly well) but a row of first year runners from garden centre plants. I thought it might be a good idea to do a bit of research first before planting my slips so I have better luck this season.
Here is a summary of some kumara growing tips I discovered during my research:
Next steps for me
After reflecting on my research, I have decided to sprinkle a little superphosphate fertiliser in the area, but I won’t dig the bed over which I’m pretty sure I didn’t do the season I grew kumara successfully. I’ll add a little lime too, as our soil is on the alkaline side. I’m then going to lay down some black plastic before popping in my slips. It seems as though I’ll be using a lot of black plastic this season – I’ve already rolled it out for my rockmelon, squash and pumpkins which are all doing nicely. Given the variable temperatures we have experienced all spring, I can’t assume this won’t continue into summer. The black plastic will help keep the soil temperature warm. It will also prevent the kumara from putting down roots everywhere, which was a problem in the past. I’m going to try and make sure that I plant the shoots in a “J” shape, as this suggestion kept coming up again and again in the results I trawled through. Wish me luck!
Yesterday, I introduced the concept of mulching in the garden. I covered what mulch is, when and where to mulch and reasons for applying mulch. In this post, I’d like to discuss some of the different materials that can be used as mulch. I will finish with a couple of tips for applying mulch. I realise this is quite a long post but I didn’t want to break it up into two parts as it will ruin the flow.
There are pros and cons for each type of mulch, which I will summarise below. The key is to use the mulch most suited to the plant. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it contains some of the most common mulches that are used around the garden.
Tips for mulching
One of the great things about being a part of this challenge is that we are constantly reminded about what we should be doing around the garden. Even if you’re a seasoned gardener (excuse the pun), it’s easy to overlook things, especially in spring when you’re so busy. In her recent admin comments, Sarah reminded us to apply mulch before the rain sets in again, if we haven’t already done so. Yesterday, I managed to spread some lawn clippings around our tamarillo, lemon and banana trees (see photo). Fortunately I had weeded the area about a fortnight ago, so I could go straight to the task of applying the mulch. We don’t have much of a lawn because it gave way to the garden over time. As a consequence, we don’t get many clippings. However, the neighbour’s property was very overgrown as it had been abandoned for a long time after the tenants moved out. When the lawn was finally mowed two days ago, there were lots of clippings which I gathered for the garden. There was no one around to ask permission, so I only raided the front (I didn’t want to sneak around the back and be busted trespassing!). Anyway, their lawn looks much tidier now that the layer of clippings has been removed. I was going to purchase some Kolush seaweed and manuka mulch which I trialled last year for Palmers Garden Centre, who kindly gave me four bags to use around the garden and follow up on through my blog and on social media. I had excellent results using this product – lots of lush growth, flowers and fruit on our trees. However, lawn clippings are free. I’m trying to economise more in the garden as I’m very conscious of the fortune we spend for the upkeep. I also wanted to experiment and try using different mulches around the garden, comparing their efficacy later on in my blog. For now, in the challenge, I thought this would be a good time to share some tips about mulching. There is a lot of ground to cover (again, excuse the pun!) so I will spread (haha) this over two posts.
What is mulch?
Mulch is material which is spread over the surface of soil. I will outline some common mulches in my next post.
Where to mulch
Anywhere you are growing plants, whether in the ground, raised beds or containers
When to mulch
Mulch is important to have in the garden all year round. Typically, I apply mulch in spring and autumn as it makes sense to do so straight after new plantings. How often you mulch depends on the material you use and the length of time it takes to break down, as well as how often you plant and replant crops.
Reasons for mulching
Tomorrow, I will outline the different types of mulches you can use, as well as some tips for applying mulch.