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.
In yesterday’s post, I opened up about how developing schizophrenia in my early 30s led me to re-discover gardening, having enjoyed helping my parents around the garden at my childhood home in Whangarei when I was a kid. Because this is a gardening blog, I don’t want to write too much about my health issues. If you want, you can read about my journey at https://www.anitakundu.co.nz/mind. To summarise, I have encountered the following health problems over the past eight years:
I started our garden simply by planting a lily (Hot Spot) in Dad’s memory. I didn’t know anything about growing lilies and didn’t even expect it to flower. When it did, I became hooked and from there, the garden grew. At first, I started off just with flowers (mainly bulbs), then started growing some veggies. I added a few roses and bit by bit, our front lawn gave way to the garden. The range of what I grew also expanded. In the past eighteen months, I added some fruit trees and berries. I consider the garden to be “complete but not finished”, if that makes sense.
Against the background of battling all of the above issues, I found gardening to be very therapeutic. It gave me an outlet and took my mind off my problems (although over time it presented new problems to think about!). In my opinion, medication alone isn’t enough when confronted with these kinds of health issues, a view that was propounded by a couple of health professionals from Counties Manukau who visited me when I was sick once. I strongly believe that plants have healing properties, whether taken medicinally or not. A couple of years ago, I noticed a stray cat that had decided to make a home for herself in our garden. She always seemed depressed, too. In time, she found a way into our hearts and became our cat. Pets can be wonderful therapy for dealing with depression.
I used to be a lawyer. While I did try to return to the workforce several times, in light of all of my health issues, I found that I could no longer hold down a full time job. For a long time, I felt angry that I was forced to step off the career track as a corporate lawyer by no choice of my own as I worked very hard at school, university and in my formative years as a lawyer at one of the largest and oldest commercial law firms in London and Paris. Over time, the garden became my work, if you like. I even ran a boutique nursery from home last year, selling plants and hosting workshops to educate locals about how to grow their own food. I always feel like I’m making up for lost time. I work damned hard (with only two weeks holiday per year I work like an American) and take what I do very seriously (maybe too much so). I’m in a good place now in terms of my health, but it took a long time (and a lot of hard work) to get here. I really resent our busybody neighbours for (i) prying into my mental health issues which are obviously an incredibly sensitive issue (yet apparently spying on the neighbours, asking them lots of personal questions and gossiping about them constantly constitutes so-called normal behaviour?) and (ii) for judging me when I was unable to work and genuinely unwell, even though they don’t work themselves. People can be very quick to criticise others, when they should be looking to themselves first for self-improvement. As for me, I’ve learnt to flip things around and look at life more positively. Living with (and living down) a mental illness isn’t easy, but it is achievable. I’ve accepted my issues and worked hard to find solutions. Developing our garden is a part of that. In the future, I’d like to branch out into other ventures. I see my blog as a stepping stone to bigger projects. I’ve thought of writing a book about gardening and in time, possibly other things too.
Today’s photo is of an oriental trumpet lily which has just started flowering.
In the Yates Veggie Growing Challenge’s blogging tips, we are required to be honest in our blog. With the end drawing closer, I thought that it would be timely for me to summarise the things that I have opened up about over the course of the competition, both explicitly and implicitly.
Today’s photo is of some of my many celery seedlings in the nursery. I hope to keep them rust free by spraying them every fortnight with Yates Liquid Copper.
Over the past week, we’ve been seeing a lot of rain in Auckland, with much more to come. Despite the downpours, I’ve managed to continue to progress the summer garden. Here’s a little summary of what I’ve been up to over the past five days.
Action list for the coming days
Today’s photo is of my two Tumbling Tom Red tomato plants which I grew from seed (Egmont) and planted into hanging baskets. I’m very pleased with how these are coming along. Is anyone else growing tomatoes in hanging baskets this year?
Rain is great for the garden (watering with the hose just isn’t the same!) but there has been a lot lately and it’s sometimes a bit frustrating as I can’t get as much done outdoors! I bet those of you with smaller gardens have finished planting your veggies and are enjoying a rest. I’m jealous. I’m far from finishing the summer garden for two main reasons: (i) successive sowing and planting is great because you have a continuous supply of veggies but it also means that the garden is never complete; and (ii) in my opinion, it’s still too early to plant some things out such as watermelon, okra and snake beans. I’m waiting for December for these heat-loving plants.
You may still be able to get some work done outside in between showers. Depending on how much it is raining, the more general conditions (wind, temperature etc) and what tasks I need to do outside, I sometimes put on a raincoat and continue with my tasks. If, like me, you still want to use time constructively to further your garden when you can’t be outdoors at all (eg if it’s raining torrentially), here are some ideas for indoor (or at least undercover) activities:
Today’s photo is of a strawberry smoothie that we have been having every day, using fresh strawberries from our garden. Mum found the recipe in an old Weight Watchers magazine. It tastes delicious!