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It’s Winter, But The Garden is Alive

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The shortest day of the year is almost upon us and although most of the winter is still to come, I’m feeling fantastic! There is so much happening around here and I’m enjoying seeing the progress in our yard and thinking about the opportunities to come.

I got my garlic planted. I didn’t get to plant it as early as I was intending to, but I still got it in before the shortest day and well before I usually do. I am really hoping to survive the rust this season. Starting from scratch with store-bought seed garlic is not fun when you’ve worked to grow bigger cloves of your own! I didn’t buy as much seed garlic this time, just in case. I planted 20 or 21 cloves of Printanor garlic in the vege garden and 2 cloves in The Herb Garden, as a small measure to avoid the rust. It’s better to get something than nothing. Then I planted my giant cloves of elephant garlic: 4 in the vege garden and 1 in The Herb Garden. This is the first time I’ve grown elephant garlic so I’m excited to see how it grows. And tastes. We all know I’m a fan of giant veges

I watered the garlic in with some compost tea. I forgot to tell y’all about my compost tea. When the comfrey was growing like bonkers last season I chucked a lot of it into a barrel and filled it with water. Some time later I added some chicken poop in there for some extra goodness. The barrel has a lid that is weighed down by a brick. And boy, does it need a lid! It doesn’t smell quite as bad now, after brewing for many months. I didn’t use it as much as I should have last season as I kept forgetting about it. That’s what happens sometimes when you put things in a far away corner. I dilute it to about 1 part nutritious, stinky tea to 10 parts water in a watering can and water stuff with it. I am going to make a point of using it a lot more and would like to experiment with some different kinds of compost tea if I have the time.

Who remembers my mushroom-growing adventure? Well, after doing all the required bits and pieces to get my oyster mushroom kit going, which wasn’t quite as ‘easy as growing grass’, I was left with the waiting period. While I got busy with my assignment I forgot to check on the mushrooms and then BOOM! The mushrooms appeared! This is what I found when I finally remembered to check them:

 

I grew mushrooms! Now we just have to wait until they get big enough to eat. Nom nom nom.

On Saturday, The Husband worked on his lumberjack skills. The doomed, unproductive, yellow-fleshed plum tree met it’s fate. I convinced The Husband to cut off more of the top branches before felling the rest of the tree, while The Little Fulla and I carted them off the the pruning mountain. Then, The Husband set to work on the tree with his chainsaw. There is always something to be nervous about when it comes to felling a tree and this time it was the fact that the part of the tree coming down wasn’t a straight trunk, it was leaning towards the paddock fence with the neighbour’s place and had a previously cut bit lower down on the trunk. But, The Husband is honing his tree-felling skills, and is rightly quite pleased about it. He secured the tree to the corner post on the deck with a rope and ratchet, cut a good wedge, made a straight cut from behind, then hauled on the rope, pulling the tree over in the right direction, avoiding the fence, the potting shed, the blackcurrants in the planter, any beings and even all my young plants in the garden bed. He then cut most of the tree up into firewood. We sure are supplying ourselves well with our tree felling at the moment! Don’t worry, we’re not going to fell ALL the trees.

I decided I’m going to keep our second Billington plum tree that is in the planter. I was going to sell it because I thought one tree was prolific enough, but we really like the Indian plum chutney I made and I’m a total fan of the frozen sliced fruit in the less fruity seasons of the year, and the plums just taste so good, even if they all come in a short space of time. So, the potted Billington is going to join its old Billington plum tree buddy in replacement of the felled tree. “But didn’t you buy an almond tree to plant there?” I hear you say… Yes. But, that is going to be planted in the new chicken pen, The Cedar Pen.

Plum Tree Garden

The Plum Tree Garden. The potted Billington plum tree is going to be planted somewhere around where it is sitting here. The mature Billington is on the left.

When I set up The Cedar Pen for the chickens I cleared out a lot of shrubbery because it was weedy, overgrown or needed to be trimmed out of repelling-the-chickens-over-the-fence height. I have been thinking about what I could plant in there, as it is not going to remain so bare. First, the ‘All In One’ almond got allocated a spot in there. Then, I thought, hey, there’s actually space for another fruit tree in here without cutting out too much sun. So, I consulted my Fruit Plan to see where there were harvest time gaps that I could help to fill. I spent some time graphing my fruit plan to get a better visual of which months had low harvesting possibilities, but my two graphs somehow disappeared while The husband was working on computer backup things.

I have decided on a ‘Royal Rosa’ apricot tree. Harvest time is November to December (late spring and early summer) and it is supposed to be good in warmer areas. We already have one very young apricot tree, the dwarf ‘Aprigold’ in The Herb Garden, but we could do with more apricots, especially in November when citrus is the only big fruit available in our garden.

Yesterday, The Husband and I worked on curtains for the woodshed. That makes a quirky mental image! No, we weren’t making it look pretty, we were making it more functional. The woodshed had gotten covered in a hotch-potch of more and more chicken wire and plastic netting in attempts to keep the chickens out of there and it was getting rather awkward to get firewood out. I cut a curtain, or screen, for each bay of the woodshed, nailed them on at the top with fence staples then put three nails down the wooden posts on each side for hooking the screens onto. The Husband fitted plastic grommets over the holes to hook over the nails. We just need a few things to finish this project: a couple more grommets, something to weight the screen down at the bottom and some sort of string system that The Husband wants to do so the screens can easily be hoisted up for accessing the woodshed. It sure looks a lot more tidy now.

Speaking of tidiness, I did some tidying up around the back door, which had been gathering more and more stuff. The back door often acts as the front door so the area does need some work to make it better. The wooden box that was sitting just outside the door was holding paper and cardboard for the fire, but didn’t have much left in it and I had sized it up for another purpose. I emptied it out and moved it into the garage to store The Little Fulla’s outdoor toys in, which is a great improvement on the cardboard boxes that they were sitting in. Removing the box means there is more space for walking around the outdoor table and chairs and that the shoes can be lined up nicely instead of being a major trip hazard. I also chucked out one of The Husband’s pairs of old work boots, since they were falling apart and there are two pairs outside. Unfortunately, he found them in the bin and retrieved them. What does a man want two pairs of old work boots for? This is not the last word on that matter. I would like to build a small, narrow shelf to store shoes and things on up against the wall. One day…

What’s next? Hopefully, tree planting, more wood chopping and woodpile tidying, more weed control, spreading hay in the chicken pen and dealing with the compost heaps.

Homestead Update

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Well, things have been certifiably nuts around here of late. I have been sick and fatigued off and on as I try to figure out what food or foods are causing me issues. That is making it difficult to get things done and it seems time is whizzing by while I’m scrambling to get a grip. On top of that, I am looking to go back to the workforce soon, which is not something I was planning to do just yet. And as a last kick in the pants our only car suddenly became in need of major work, which isn’t worth it, so we have been trying to get our heads and pockets around acquiring a new car. Here are some updates on different things going on at Twiglet Homestead.

The Chickens

The first thing of note is that Lydia is no longer with us. She was my second egg eater. I tried to retrain her and had some success while she was in the big cage, but as soon as I put her back with the main flock, she went feral with her laying and wouldn’t lay in the coop. She laid under the shelter, ate her egg then alerted everyone else, including me, to what was going on. When I ran over some other hens were pecking around in Lydia’s hole, but, fortunately, Lydia appeared to have eaten the whole egg, as she was wont to do, so the others didn’t cotton on. But that was it. No more time and effort trying to win a losing battle with this determined egg eater. No more endangering my other hens with that habit. I could not keep her somewhere all alone. A couple of people offered to re-home her but they were too far away. There was no place for her here. I had to get The Husband to do the deed. I just couldn’t face culling Lydia. I did, however, manage to add one more chicken to our freezer collection… It is sad. Lydia was my good little layer, full of character, loud announcements and cheekiness. I had been through a lot with her: bumblefoot ops, making foam shoes, doing many, many foot dressings, watching her get demoted from top hen spot for being over-dramatic and having her pout at my feet, seeing how nutty her offspring could be (ahem, Mr Collins…). She was the only hen I’ve taken to the vet, where I learned some excellent information. She recovered so well. She was great entertainment. She was my most consistent layer. Unfortunately, she just became consistent with egg eating too. She will be missed.

Lydia

Farewell, Lydia, you crazy, cheeky chicken.

I’d like to say onward and upward, but, with our above issues, the flock is going to see some more changes. I need to cut costs and there are tough decisions going on, especially if I am to hatch some eggs in spring. Who will stay and who will go? It is a harsh decision-making process. We shall have to wait and see.

Chickens at the fence

Don’t look at me like that, chickies, I have tough decisions to make.

Ok, enough bad news already! One good thing is that the hens are still laying, some of them just a tad less frequently as the daylight hours decrease. They’ve laid 5-7 eggs in the last week. Some people’s hens are off the lay for winter so I’m totally stoked to still have some eggs! Lizzie has become almost as a good a layer as Lydia and her eggs are bigger. Kitty is a good, sensible layer, Mary has become a sensible layer too and Frodo is an awesome layer when she’s not being broody. Also, PB is doing well. He is 13 weeks old now and hasn’t succumbed to Mareks as yet, so things are looking good. The thing is, although he is big, I’m really not sure about his maleness once again. If he is a boy he has an extremely pale and small comb and wattles for his age. I have been watching him a lot and I really don’t know what to think right now! Maybe in another week I’ll know. Georgiana is PB’s buddy but PB sometimes gets to hang out with the others too. The new girls are doing well and getting handled while they’re easier to catch in their temp ‘quarantine’ pen, which has now been moved right next to the main pen so everyone can get to know each other before the great integration. The little silver-laced Wyandotte is my favourite, with a chilled out, friendly nature and lively foraging abilities. At first I was a little worried about how she would cope being the smallest, but she is a goer! She is actually the dominant one. It is funny to watch the wee thing dominate a big Orpington, however, I’m now concerned that she may be a boy. Blagh. Not another mind-battle! My suspicions are due to curly tail feathers, slow-developing rear-end feathers and upright posture. If she is a he I can swap her for another pullet but that would be a shame and it would mean more quarantine. Since Wyandottes are a new breed for me I will just have to wait and see.

Getting to know each other

“Stop digging, the human’s looking!” “No, human, we are definitely not digging a tunnel to the other side… La la la…”

New girls looking

Hello, other chickens!

 

The Garden

Much of the vege garden has been put to bed for the winter. I have been putting used chicken bedding on top of the empty beds to help suppress the weeds, protect the soil and add some organic matter for next season’s crops. There are still some crops slowly chugging along. Growth has slowed down a lot as the cold finally hit and the wet weather has continued to give little time for the soil to dry out. Just when things get sunny, the rain bounds back in again with complete disregard for my gardening needs.

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The parts of the vege garden not containing crops have had used chicken bedding (wood shavings and poop) tipped on top. I will see how this works out.

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There is actually still some green stuff in there! The kale is getting rather stripped as I keep feeding it to the chickens – they love it. We still have kale in the freezer from the season before when I whizzed and froze HEAPS. I put kale flakes in my scrambled eggs and we chuck it in mince dishes, rice, curries and fritters, among other things.

So, what’s still growing? There are a few carrots left. There is beetroot, which I have grown for the first time. I’ve never been a beetroot fan but in the last couple of years I’ve tasted some nice dishes with fresh beetroot in them. There are leeks. Huge leeks. A leek can go a long way so we’ve been putting them into all sorts of things: fritters, patties, various meat dishes, soup… There are still spring onions and lettuces. There is still a swathe of parsley. And there are the brassicas: bok choy, cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli. Annoying critters are still eating some holes in them so we obviously haven’t had enough cold weather yet. The first few frosts took down my capsicums though. And guess what? I bought my seed garlic early this year! I got some Printanor, the main good culinary variety grown here and some elephant garlic, which I haven’t grown before. It is bigger and milder than normal garlic and is actually a different species. I need to figure out when to plant them. After last season’s rust disaster I’ve been thinking an earlier planting might give them more time to get growing well, but I can’t plant them if the ground is too soggy.

I have been slowly picking away at the weeding around the garden but haven’t had much time for more exciting things like planting. The Plum Tree Garden has been weeded and is looking tidy, if a little plant-bare. The Maple Garden has a downright terrible population of weeds. It looks pretty good at a glance, thanks to the ridiculously well-growing native sedges and other plants in there, but a closer look reveals swathes of weeds lurking underneath and swamping the ground covers in there. I have started picking away at it, even though I’d rather walk past with a hand shielding my eyes saying, “La, la, la…”

Plum Tree Garden

The Plum Tree garden looks tidy, because I’ve just finished weeding it. It just needs more plants. And we need to finish chopping down the unproductive yellow-fleshed plum tree on the right. And plant the almond tree. After we dig out the blackcurrant planter box which has become rooted into the soil. Oops!

Wood Projects

We bought a ‘new’ dining table a little while back and need to sell our old drop-leaf table. The top of it was really looking worse for wear so I have been resurfacing it, just casually, as if I’ve actually done anything like that before. It may not be perfect, but it’s been a good learning experience and it looks heaps better than it did before, which will hopefully be reflected in a better price when I sell it. I have a lot of other projects to do around the house but it’s one day at a time at the moment. I will post about some smaller projects later. Meanwhile, an exciting trailer load has appeared in our yard. The Parents’-in-law found a bunch of wood framing instead of the usual pallets, and I have great visions of using them for a chicken pen, perhaps even a chicken tractor…

Dining table

The old dining table has been getting some attention.

Crafts

I am working on The Little Fulla’s green knitted jersey at the moment. Progress is very slow due to lack of time sitting still. And the fact that I chose a cabled pattern, so knitting it requires concentration and peering at a chart. Concentration is not one of my strong points at this current point in time. Let’s just say there have been more than a few re-done rows. Meanwhile, the great knitting and crocheting women of The Husband’s family have been yarning up a storm with all sorts of lovely projects popping out.

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The Little Fulla’s snail-paced jersey. The colour in this photo really isn’t right but it shows the cabling pattern well. I may or may not be about to undo a row that I did slightly wrong…

Let’s hope the madness dies down soon. Tomorrow we go car hunting…

Tree Business

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I have been taking care of a lot of tree business around here lately. Trees have been pruned, trees have been given final notice and trees have been bought. We decided that the yellow-fleshed plum tree was going to get the chop due to its pollination-related performance issues. I haven’t been able to ascertain what cultivar it is, only that it is similar to a Santa Rosa or Fortune, but it is not quite either of those. Not knowing exactly what it is means I wouldn’t know exactly which other plum cultivars would pollinate it, and since we don’t want to end up with three plum trees anyway, its days are numbered. What use is a fruit tree that doesn’t fruit? It’s a bit like people, really. We may look good and seem like we’re going somewhere, but without the right input our efforts amount to nothing. However, if we get alongside someone else who has a vision, passion or skills compatible with our own, then we bear fruit abundantly, and that makes a difference to the world around us.

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The yellow-fleshed plum tree (right) is going to go bye-byes when I’ve finished working on the second chicken pen. I need to finish pruning the Billington plum tree (left).

To replace the plum tree I have bought an ‘All in One’ almond tree, which is rated highly for home gardens, especially in warmer areas. It will just have to wait until we’ve chopped down the plum tree to find a spot in there somewhere. Meanwhile, the Billington plum tree put on heaps of growth after its big pruning last year and I have started pruning it into some semblance of control.

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The ‘All in One’ almond tree awaits the removal of its predecessor. It has a few good branch options, so I have to decide at what height I want the main structural branches coming out of the trunk.

My other option for replacing the doomed plum tree was another apple tree. Not to be pushed aside, the ideas rattled around in my brain and I found a place for one too! While we were in Auckland, we found, bought and manoeuvered into the car a Cox’s Orange Pippin on a semi-dwarf MM106 rootstock. Knowing what the rootstock is is an essential point when buying fruit trees. The future site for the apple tree is in the future triangle garden outside one of our lounge windows, a garden which I have been thinking about for ages, which has been waiting for me to move my pallets of potted plants, which have been waiting for me to clear the plant-growing alcove, which has been waiting for me to move the pruning mountain, which I did, but now there’s an even bigger pruning mountain. Everything in the garden moves in ridiculously complicated triangles and circles at the moment. Anyway, the apple tree is going to provide shade to the sunniest and hottest window during summer, then will return some of the light when it drops its leaves in the winter. Plus, it will give us tasty apples. We had a Cox’s Orange Pippin in my childhood garden and it is well-known as one of the best heritage apples. The advantages of the MM106 rootstock are that the tree will grow to about 4.5m tall; not too tall but tall enough to provide good shade, and resistance to woolly aphid, which the other apple tree in the chicken run is currently having issues with. Here is a handy chart I found featuring the main apple rootstocks available in New Zealand.

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The ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ apple tree awaits the removal of two pallets of potted plants so that I can form a triangle-ish garden between the black fence on the left and the corner of the house. This lounge window is in much need of shade during the summer.

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The pruning mountain in my future plant alcove. At least it’s a nice shape. Can you tell that I formed this one?

The other main tree business that has been underway is the pruning of the cedar tree. It has had most of the branches within reach of the telescopic pruning saw cut off, mostly by me, and a little by The Husband. These branches are massive. Cedar trees can reach 12m wide and our tree is no exception. The branches are heavy as well as very long and had to be taken off in sections so as not to damage anything as they fell. The lowest branches stretching over the chicken run, the neighbours’ place and the garage have been dealt with.

Now I can really see how the cedar tree has affected the growth and fruiting of the apple tree: it is on a distinct lean towards the paddock and most of the branches and apples are hanging over the paddock since the cedar has been crowding it out and shading it for probably quite some time. The whole area is looking better with more light coming through. When The Youngest Brother-in-law was here last night he commented that the backyard was looking nice and open. It’s nice when people notice the difference that a lot of hard work has made. Swathes of ivy have also been hacked down from the cedar tree and the small, insanely twisted Pittosporum crassifolium (Karo) behind it that was splurging over the fence into the chicken run has been cut down too. There is another young Karo still in there so I will leave that one.

After the last session of hacking, which may have gotten a little too vigourous, I developed some bad ivy rash, despite wearing longs, so I will not be hacking ivy above ground again. My eagerness to get things done makes me cycle between going full guns blazing at the ivy and being extremely scared of it. I think we have gotten rid of most of what we can cut down anyway, aside from what The Husband may like to prise off the trunk for me… Now all that remains is for the rest of the tree to be dismantled, which, unfortunately is really not a job we can do ourselves. While we await an option that won’t make our pockets explode, I am getting a move on with chicken-wiring the fence around the Cedar Tree Garden. I am trying to convince The Husband to help dig and pull out the rest of the ivy from the ground so it doesn’t attack me while I’m crouching down, stapling the chicken wire. Well, I was, but now The Husband has a back injury so I’m on ivy ground-clearing duty again.

I have also spent a lot of time raking up all the pinecone scales and cedar needles from the second chicken pen area. The Little Fulla has been helping, which mostly entails wheelbarrow rides, stopping him from putting all manner of things in his mouth, stopping him from climbing up the fort ladder, regular snuggles and stopping him from putting more things in his mouth. The purpose of all this raking is to get the sharp pinecone scales out of the future chicken area to minimise injury and potential subsequent infection to the chickens’ feet. It is also making things look a lot more tidy. Another great side effect is that I have gained barrow-loads of mulch to put onto the Plum Tree Garden. This is making the garden look good and helping to suppress the weeds. Re-purposing for the win!

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The Plum Tree Garden is looking a whole heap better with heaps of cedar mulch.

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I am currently feeling very pleased with the clean, sweeping line. I just need to put a bit more mulch at the back.

I haven’t been much of a mulch afficionado in the past, basically because I wouldn’t spend money on mulch. I knew it was good, but it was just an extra expense, however, my eyes have been opened to the great benefits of mulch. Ok, so I’m thinking about my free mulch, but still… The pinecone/pine needle/sticks mulch is really helping to keep the weeds down, which means: a) I don’t have to spend so much time weeding or b) I don’t have to spend time and money with a side of guilty feelings spraying the weeds. And less weeds in one garden bed means less weeds to spread to other parts of the garden. Another free mulch, the used chicken bedding of wood shavings and poop, is helping to suppress the weeds in the Herb Garden and elsewhere, albeit not quite as effectively. Both these mulches are also helping to retain water, which has been hard to come by these last few months. In the Vege Garden, I was surprised to see the vast difference that mulch can make in water retention. Since the potatoes were harvested from The Corner Bed, I have been piling used chicken wood shavings and hay on top of it, and when I went to plant some brassicas in there, the soil underneath was still moist, even though it hadn’t been watered for quite a while. In contrast, The Long Bed opposite it was very dry and had to be watered. Yes please, I am getting on the mulch train. Especially if it’s a free ride. But I might even pay for a ride to Mulchtown.

A Weekend in The Vege Garden

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We were blessed with two days of glorious, sunny spring weather this weekend and I used them to get as much done as I could in the vege garden. I am pleased to announce that the construction of the newest vege beds is finished! The Husband has done a great job of constructing them according to my plan. The only thing that’s different is the long narrow bed along the fence wasn’t supposed to be quite as wide, as the nearest side wasn’t supposed to go right into the corner of the far bed, but the plan printed out weirdly so it was a bit hard to tell. It means there’s a little less space in the two front beds, but more space for the tomatoes and other climbing things that will be grown in the narrow bed along the fence. It is probably better for the tomatoes to have more space and the beds look better this way so I think it was a good oversight.

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The new vege beds. Woop woop!

My next tasks on the chicken pen side of things are:

  • Finish stapling on the first layer of chicken wire.
  • Attach the second layer of chicken wire.
  • Put temporary gates at each end until I can get proper ones sorted.
  • Dismantle the temporary pen I set up for Jane.
  • Take down the temporary chicken fence.

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The new beds have been partially filled with compost and chicken bedding but I’ve used all the ready home compost so we’re going to have to buy in a lot more. Some of the older Long Bed still needs topping up too. If I can find some good horse poop that would help keep the cost down, but good, aged poop is hard to find around here.

You may notice that some of the paths around the vege beds look lovely instead of weed-infested. That’s because I’ve been laying down the ‘wood shavings’, which turned out to be unsuitable for the chickens, as a mulch to help suppress the weeds and make things look nice and tidy. At least for a little while. I’m feeling quite pleased about how it looks and that I’ve found a good use for it. It’s no easy task getting it out of the giant bag in the carport though. All the substrate in there is wet and has to be shoveled out and transported by the wheelbarrow load as the bag is ridiculously immovable with all the wet weight in there.

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The Long Bed is looking pretty good but a lot of what’s in there are things from last season that need to be used and/or pulled out to make way for the new crops and crop rotation (of sorts): kale, parsley, picking celery and spring onions. The spring onions can be divided, trimmed and replanted where I want them.

I also got the Long Bed weeded this weekend. The Little Fulla ‘helped’. He got excited about being allowed to hold the trowel and tried to dig with it all on his own. That was a proud mummy moment. He’s well on his way to becoming a gardener already. He just loves being outdoors and gets upset when we have to take him inside. While I pulled out weeds he pulled at the brassica leaves, repeatedly tried to eat spring onion flowers, watched the neighbours’ calves and sheep and tried to grab lemons off the lemon tree. And I spent half the time running after him every time he took off out of the vege garden area. I also moved the stack of materials that had accumulated along one fence to the space behind the potting shed. I was going to plant something edible down there in the future but decided I probably need it as a storage spot where things can be out of sight. I even made time to sow a few more seeds: leeks and meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii) for the vege garden. Doing all this was somewhat of a challenge with The Little Fulla, especially since he is only sleeping for 1 to 1 1/2 hours total during the day now (I am mourning the loss of his morning nap but he sleeps well for about 12 hours at night so I can’t complain), but it is fun getting to share the garden with him and teach him things.

The next vege garden tasks are:

  • Remove worst weeds from paths down far end of vege beds.
  • Finish shoveling out and laying down mulch.
  • Pull out unwanted crops from last season that are in the way.
  • Fill up new vege beds and top up Long Bed.
  • Finish crop planning spreadsheet.
  • Plant seed potatoes.
  • Plant and sow other veges (yes, that’s vague at the moment).
  • Begin next phase of The Great Vege Garden Expansion Plan.

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Can you tell the difference between the mulch that has just been shoveled out of the giant bag and that which has been sitting out for a day? The dark stuff is very wet. I’ve used cardboard to help suppress some of the weeds. It would be great if I could let the chickens in there to help me, but I can’t risk them pooping all around where The Little Fulla is while I’m working, especially considering the amount of things he tries to put in his mouth…

In Which The Garlic Almost Goes Down The Rabbit Hole

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Winter is garlic planting time. The shortest day is like a non-specific marker that reminds me to plant the garlic some time in the near future. I usually end up doing it in late June or early July. This year I am doing a combination of what to do and what not to do with garlic. Obviously, I planned it that way for educational purposes…

When I went to get my saved garlic bulbs from last season out of the potting shed I had a problem. They were rotten. WHAT?! It turns out you shouldn’t chuck your carefully chosen, largest garlic bulbs from your harvest onto a shelf in the potting shed and forget about them until planting time. Mind you, I don’t think it was so much of a storage issue as a way-too-much-rain-just-before-harvest issue. I should have known and checked them since some of the rest of our garlic hung for cooking went squishy and mouldy. Silly Twiglet.

It was almost mid-July and I suddenly had to face the problem of finding seed garlic to plant. I was late for a very important date and I had to scramble to find some. I quickly bought some heirloom Kakanui garlic from Trade Me. 30 cloves. I haven’t tried this one before so I thought I better get some of the usual Printanor garlic too. The stuff I could find in store was a little small but it would have to do. Then, when I went to throw away my munted saved garlic, I discovered, on closer inspection, that some of the cloves were actually ok, so I set aside the good, big ones and biffed the rest. Except for the small ones that were ok; they went into the kitchen for culinary purposes. I suppose these second-chance cloves will be more at risk of rotting in the ground but it’s ok, I have back-ups! Suddenly, things were looking far better in the garlic department with three lots to go in.

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Kakanui garlic cloves. They are nice, big cloves. I bought 30, got 36 and planted 34. One was squishy and one was too small.

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This looks like a nice, fat garlic clove, right? No! It is squishy. Don’t plant squishy garlic.

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My Printanor garlic cloves at top, saved from last season, the Printanor garlic I bought at bottom and a Kakanui garlic clove in the middle. I am SO pleased I got some big saved garlic cloves to carry on my legacy from last year.

Before planting the garlic I needed to replenish the soil back to the top of the raised bed. Yes, I was supposed to do this some while before planting the garlic. Yes, I think I did the same thing last year. Another what not to do. For educational purposes. But, never mind, because this is where I got excited about a pile of brown stuff. And no, it wasn’t poop this time. Although it was slightly weedy on top, the oldest compost pile contained beautiful, dark, ready compost. I made good compost! Woop woop! Well, to be fair, the pile was started before we bought the place last year, but we added a lot to it, also, The Husband turned it once, so I should say we made good compost. One of the main factors leading to this amazing brown pile was a good combination of ‘browns’ and ‘greens’ that were added to it; ‘browns’ (small branches, dead leaves, poopy wood shavings and hay from the chickens, soil or compost, wood ash, etc.) being of a greater percentage. It is a lot easier to get plenty of ‘browns’ on a property of this size thanks to the never-ending supply of prunings and chicken litter.

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We made brown stuff! Isn’t it beautiful?

So, there I was, all excited about my pile of brown stuff, when along came The Little Fulla, who was even more excited about it. While The Husband helped shovel compost into the wheelbarrow, The Little Fulla grabbed clumps of brown stuff, squelched it in his wee hands and ate it. Er, did someone order a large dose of immunities? Then he crawled over to the vege bed (The Little Fulla, not The Husband) and discovered that we were putting more of the exciting brown stuff in there. So much excitement! A big clean-up of our browned child followed.

Later, when I was free to poke around in the garden by myself, I planted out the garlic cloves. There were rain showers off and on, so I had to run between the vege garden and the potting shed a few times like a mad hatter. I used plastic netting to space the cloves evenly without having to look like a dork with a tape measure. Plenty of time for that later. I planted one clove in the centre of every second ‘square’, which made them 10cm x 11cm apart, ideal for the deep bed method, but I staggered the rows to give them slightly more space.

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Using a plastic mesh grid to position the garlic cloves in a glorious bed of compost.

Using these grids was extremely satisfying to my orderly nature and as a bonus, leaving them there until the garlic starts to pop up deters cats from digging in there. I didn’t put them all right next to each other in case of random disasters or misadventures. Lets hope that it’s not so wet around harvest time this year. And do you know how many garlic cloves I have planted? I have 34 Kakanui, 14 of my Printanor and 13 of the store-bought Printanor. That’s 61 cloves of garlic. Exxxcellent.

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We may all be mad here, but the vege bed is getting more and more sane-looking.

 

The Circle of Life

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As I stood in the kitchen peeling apples to stew for The Little Fulla, I thought about the circle of life. Not as in The Lion King, but as in gardens and chickens and food. Being a keen gardener, I put food scraps, paper towels, garden waste and other decomposables (I decided that’s a word) into the compost, which in turn makes it back into the garden to help grow more food. It is a two-way system. But after a year of keeping chickens I realised I have a three-way system, which I have deemed The Circle of Life.

This occurred to me as I was thinking about the fact that I needed to fertilise my citrus trees as they come into fruiting season, but I couldn’t because the chickens have the run of the orchard. Then I had a ‘duh’ moment. In my old way of gardening I would fertilise the citrus trees with bagged citrus fertiliser so they were getting balanced nutrients. The ‘duh’ moment was when I realised the chickens are fertilising the whole ground under the orchard fruit trees with their poop. Times have changed. Sure, chicken poop may not have the correct NPK rating, but I’m sure it’s better than non-organic fertiliser for both the trees and the soil! One day I’ll get my fertiliser tea game on too. I have some comfrey plants, so that’s a start. When I clean the dirty bedding out of the chicken coop the wood shavings and poop also go onto the compost heap to contribute to the production of compost for the garden.

Another great thing about chickens is that I can feed them the leftovers from The Little Fulla’s baby food. I prepare all his food, so I know what’s in it, and the chickens get bits of meat, veges, fruit, brown rice, pasta and so forth in their treats bowl, as well as other approved kitchen scraps.

In summary, The Circle of Life goes like this:

  • The chickens give us eggs to eat (and maybe one day meat).
  • The chickens give us poop for the garden.
  • The garden produces veges and fruit for us to eat.
  • Food preparation produces scraps for the chickens to eat or for the compost.
  • We make less waste.

What a happy little circle! Now I have The Circle of Life song stuck in my head and a great desire to pick up one of my chickens, hold it out in the Rafiki pose and sing: “Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba!” I googled the lyrics. Obviously, I knew what they were singing. I just wanted to make sure. Luckily for the chickens, it is night time. Maybe in the morning…

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Elrond and Legolas. Legolas would be a good candidate for the Rafiki pose.

The Vege Garden is Filling up

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The vege garden has gathered more plants and is starting to look like something worthwhile. The late spring rain we’ve had has been extremely helpful; keeping my newly planted seedlings watered and helping the older veges put on growth. That is, until last week’s three days of hot, sticky weather akin to the height of summer. They said rain was coming but it was very tardy. Finally, on Friday night the heavens opened and beautiful rain fell upon my thirsty garden. It carried on throughout much of Saturday and I was very happy.

Vege garden

The things are growing!

Tomatoes and garlic

Tomatoes and garlic

Tomatoes and salvias

Tomatoes with salvias in front. And weeds. Hmm…

Here is what I’ve planted in the vege garden to date:

  • Tomatoes x15
  • Capsicums x7
  • Chillies x2
  • Potatoes x19
  • Pumpkins x2
  • Cucumbers x2
  • Runner beans x2
  • Garlic x26
  • Spring onions x20
  • Lettuces x4
  • Salvias x17

The salvias, with flowers of white, blue/white and purple are to provide food for the bees and predatory insects like hoverflies. Seedwise I have sowed carrots, spinach and bok choy.

Salvia 'Salsa Deep Purple'

Salvia ‘Salsa Deep Purple’

I have these seedlings remaining to plant:

  • Kale
  • Parsley
  • Celery
  • Leeks
  • Rocket
  • Basil
  • More lettuces
  • Sorrel
  • Meadowfoam
  • Sweet alyssum

C’mon little seedlings, grow faster. Summer is almost upon us!

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