January is one of the hottest months of the year, making work around the garden challenging on many fronts. High temperatures, little or no rainfall and dry soil make it difficult to get plants established. Fortunately, it’s a time when most gardens are well-established and by now, most gardeners are starting to see the fruits of their labour. We certainly are. This is also a time when most people are on holiday and away from their garden. It’s always a shame to see all the hard work you put in during spring go to waste when the place becomes neglected and plants die, or you return to a jungle! These are problems I have faced year after year, so I have compiled a few little checklists with some suggestions to help you out.
My tips for caring for the garden while you’re away:
Here are some tips for gardening in January:
While the garden is flourishing in high temperatures, it’s generally a quieter time than spring, so you might find yourself having a bit of spare time on your hands. Here are a few ways you could spend any extra time you have:
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.