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winter garden

The green doesn’t look real does it?  But it is, late winter in my garden and skies that look too blue to be real and garden greens that look too green to be real.

There was a lean patch there for a bit, where I didn’t reap what I didn’t sow a few months ago.  But it’s back. This is such a productive time in my part of the world.  Spring here is often harsh – windy and dry and unexpectedly hot.  It means seedlings need shadehouse raising and coddling, and I am always a bit stingy with watering as I wait to see what the fire season will bring.  Summers lull you into a false sense of great expectations, with rainstorms often enough to keep things going so long as they are well established and there is plenty of mulch, but then comes a frizzle day – a single day with temperatures in the 40’s and a hot dry north-westerly wind and you can’t stay home all day to rig up shade and mist and it’s all gone in one fell swoop.  Then the late summer-early autumn floods when you find out if your drainage really is good enough.

And then comes this, late winter in my frost-free garden, with a season of just-enough rain and lots of clear, bright winter days and bandicoots kept (mostly) out of the garden beds and wallabies kept (mostly) out of the perimeter fence and bush turkeys kept (mostly) from doing too much damage and I think the resident possum has met up with the resident carpet snake so we are between possums.

Spinach is the glut crop.  Real spinach grown in the ground in season is a different thing to the little packets of hydroponic baby spinach you get in the supermarket, and now is about the only time of year you will find it at farmer’s markets and in gardens.  Spinach  triangles and gozlemes and frittata and gnocchi and pie and piroshki and polenta and pikelets and pakora  and soup and saag (both with and without meat) and under a poached egg or mushrooms for breakfast most mornings.  And today little spinach and bocconcini rolls that I’ll post a recipe for sometime soon.

Lettuce is the other glut crop, with some kind of winter salad most days. There’s any amount of the leafy annual herbs – rocket and parsley and coriander and dill and  spring onions too.

We’ve started harvesting asparagus, too early but there you go.   Broccoli and snow peas and cauliflower  and  celery are coming on nicely, and carrots and leeks and and beets. My  broad beans are flowering. It’s really too warm for them here but I have hope of at least a little crop.  I have a nice stash of macadamias, hopefully enough to last through till the pecan season in autumn. The last of the limes to go with avocados.  The last of the  mandarins to last through till the strawberries (now flowering) start

A late winter garden in sub-tropical climate is a lovely thing!

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pea plants

I’ve had to impose some discipline this month.  I have a whole southside,  two and a half metre tall fence around a newly chooked  garden bed that has nothing growing up it.  Normally this is a hotly contested kind of site.  Normally I have a tall climber – in summer beans or tomatoes or curcubits, this time of year peas or snow peas – impatiently hanging out in pots waiting for the chooks to be moved on so they can be planted out. Tall climbers planted around the south side of a bed will never shade anything to the north of them, and with roots in newly cleared and fertilised and mulched ground and all that vertical space for sun capture, this is the most highly productive space in my whole garden.

But I lost rhythm for a little while a few months ago, and the result is that the last lot of peas went in late.  That’s them in the picture.  A month old now and just starting their climb.  In a couple of months time they will be yielding all the peas we can eat.  If I plant the next lot too soon, there will be too many peas and I’ll be down to using freezer space for them or giving them away. And more to the point there won’t be any space available for a later lot, so glut of peas will be followed by want of peas.

So I’ve held my hand.  But today is a fruiting planting day, and I have six metres of fence with wood ash from the slow combustion stove dug in to well composted soil all along it, and some fresh Massey Gem pea seed, and climbing snow pea seed.  I shall plant the seed into wet ground then avoid watering till they are up, or they are likely to rot in the ground.  It rained last night so the soil is wet and there is not much rain predicted for the rest of the week.  It’s a perfect planting time.

I’ve already planted out the rest of the bed with seedlings of broccoli and celery and parsnips and celeriac in front of the peas, and silver beet and coriander and leeks and cauliflower in front of them, and spinach and lettuces and carrots and onions and parsley in front of them – staggered, mixed, sequenced nicely.  Once the peas and snow peas are up, the bed will be nicely planted out.

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garden in JuneSequential planting is such a lifesaver!  This whole year seems to have been routines-out-the-window so far.  I love routines.  Once you have worked a system down to the point where it just works and you turn it into a habit,  it just gets done in incidental time, and incidental time doesn’t count.

My sourdough baking is like that now – so routine that it feels to me like it takes no time at all.  Lunar planting is sometimes like that.  I get on a roll.  I have had some good mowing sessions, there’s been horse manure and azolla available, and the chooks have made compost so I have a nice mature pile ready to use.   I have collected enough creek gravel from the flood bank at the crossing on the way home from town so I have a stock. There are no late stragglers of crops holding up a bed. The seed box has no gaps and the seed is fresh and viable.  And a planting day comes round and it just flows together in no time.

Then something like Bentley comes along and throws all my routines out, and it takes months to get all the ducks lined up again.

I’ve missed planting days but I have managed to plant a new round of seeds in seed trays and seedlings out into the garden every month and I’m really quite pleased about it.  Small amounts of seed put in and small amounts of advanced seedlings planted out every month – the small amounts is the secret. It makes it so do-able and the payoff is that all the balls stay more or less in the air.  I know from having experienced it once or twice too often that once I let them all drop it takes ages and real work to get it all going again.1-image (1)

Last week I potted on a big variety of leafy greens from the seed trays – lettuce, radicchio, sorrel, mizuna, pak choi, cabbage, cauli, broccoli, kailan, kale, celery, celeriac, parsley, coriander, nigella, spinach, silver beet, leeks, spring onions, mustard – just a couple of each.  Winter is the season for leafy greens in my part of the world – my garden is pretty well frost free and so far this year hasn’t even got cool.  Then I planted another round of seed of all of them, just a tiny pinch of seed presorted so that one packet lasts all season.  Yesterday I planted leaf pots with peas and snow peas.  Too late now for broad beans, and it’s been such a warm winter I’ll be lucky to get a yield from the ones planted in April and May.  Today I planted out the new bed that the chooks have just moved off with advanced seedlings of all these from last month – peas and snow peas along the fence on the south side and leafy greens stacked tallest to the south side – just a few of each. Next week I’ll plant out advanced seedlings of beetroot, carrots and parsnips, and put a new lot of seed in.  Too late now for onions or garlic here but I have pretty well enough in already.

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The compost stocks are low, that’s the last of the creek gravel used, I’ve run out of horse manure and I’ll need to do some mowing soon.  And in July it will be time to think about coldframes for planting the first seed of chilis, capsicums, eggplants and tomatoes. But I have the top bed bearing, the middle bed just starting to bear, the bottom bed planted out,  the chooks preparing the next bed ready for the seedlings in their compost rich pots in the shadehouse, and three more beds finishing out all the summer crops, still yielding tromboncinos and squash and potkins and cucumbers and tomatoes and amaranth and chilis and carrots and spring onions and beets and basil.

The coal seam gas battle is a long way from over and it is one that is so worth winning that my garden may just have to slide this year.  But so far, it’s all good.

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ginger

We had frost this week.  Two nights of it in a row.  Not up to the height of my garden, which is 300 metres above sea level, but all along the creek flats. But the week before we had one day over 28°C and another couple in the high 20’s.

Today is clear and warm and sunny, and I’m contemplating whether it is late enough yet to divide up the ginger.  And that, along with a comment from Jude last week about getting the timing right for planting has had me mulling on belonging to a place.

I’m at the south end of the range for ginger.  It is always late to sprout here.  Even if we have a warm start to spring it waits for the reliable heat and rain of summer. I can get good crops – it’s my glut crop for this week – but only by knowing it well.

Spring, though it is often scarily warm early is also our dry and windy season.   Fire is more of a danger in spring here than in the height of summer, usually (except on the rare occasions when we get one of those freaky sets of summer weather with north westerly winds and no storm rain).  Spring is the season of watching the water supply anxiously, of taking big gambles on how much to water the garden and the fruit trees, of keeping the fire tanker trailer full and the yellow overalls ready, of lying awake at night listening to the wind tearing branches off trees.

So I don’t blame the ginger for weighing up its options and deciding that the best bet is to keep it’s powder dry and wait for warm rain.

It’s not just living somewhere for a long time that allows you to build up this kind of nuanced knowing a place. Past time is one of the factors. Like a long marriage, it allows you to build up a huge body of intimate knowledge.  Present time is also a factor.   I notice it when I work indoors a lot I get really disconnected and lose that intimacy, and get clumsy with making good guesses. But a more important one is attention, which comes from a sense of belonging, which comes from a sense of a lot of future time.

We lose a lot of that in our western culture, that long, intimate, responsible relationship with a place.  Aboriginal people knew it and mourn it like the loss of a loved one, or a whole family of loved ones.  Rural people know it and can’t comprehend how anyone can think CSG fracking is anything but, well, fracking.  I get really angry with people who disrespect it, who think they can make good judgements without it. It is a kind of relationship that we don’t even have good language to describe.

I think this is one of the huge risks in climate change, that urban people completely don’t get. Farmers gamble, constantly. They make educated, considered, intuitive guesses  based on gut feeling, the tiny signals that intimacy and experience allow. Those guesses are sometimes right, sometimes wrong.  Bad guessers go broke or resort to mining the land.  Good ones get it right more often than wrong and succeed. Climate change is making all that experience and intimate knowledge of a place, built up over generations, unreliable. If people think energy costs are trouble for cost of living, they ain’t seen nothing yet. As farmers get the guesswork wrong more often, the cost of food, and food scarcity, will escalate at a rate I am scared to guess.

So I’m going to hold off dividing up the ginger.  Today I’m planting out potatoes – Dutch Creams this time, and carrots, spring onions, and beetroot in the bed I’ve just moved the chooks off.    I shall use my usual method for the spuds, planting them straight out into the bed.  By the time they get up we will be past the danger of a late frost. I’ll plant a new round of carrots, spring onions, and beetroot in the shadehouse, using my usual method for the carrots and spring onions and my usual method for the beets, and selecting varieties with the best chance of surviving hot dry windy conditions and lengthening days urging them to bolt.  I shall put the sprinkler on for a few hours in each bed over the next few days, and move a trickling hose around the fruit trees, betting on a nicer than usual spring – less hot and windy with enough rain to refill the dam and fend off the worst of the fire season.  But my guesswork is not a lot of use to you.
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rattlesnake beans

For one very scary moment I thought we had eaten the last of the beans saved from last summer.  But whew.  Plenty in the jar for planting for this year. These are Rattlesnakes,  my current favourite bean variety originally a gift from another gardener.  They’re a tall, prolific climber and great as green beans or dried as a pinto bean substitute.  Which nearly got me into trouble through cooking all of them. Chili beans have been a staple this winter.

Today I’m planting a couple of dozen seeds of these in leaf pots, three to a pot and I’ll weed out the weakest before planting them out in a few weeks time.  I would plant them directly if I had space but the bed they will go into is just about to be cleared and fertilised by a fortnight of chooks if I can get around to moving the chooks this afternoon. And every other climbing space has peas or snow peas still bearing or coming on, or is needed for the Blue Lake beans and tromboncino and cucumbers planted in pots last month

I’m also planting seed of tromboncino and cucumbers and zucchini and button squash by the same method. Yellow cherry, Yugoslav and Principe Borghese are my favourite varieties of tomatoes at the moment, so I’m planting a few seeds of each along with, tomatillos and capsicums in a seed raising box.  I’m skipping eggplants this year.  They are very prone to some kind of virus spread by flea beetles in my garden.  I’m hoping a year off will break the cycle.  I need to remember to be careful not to plant too many tomatoes for the same reason.  I try to avoid planting them in the same spot two years running or they build up disease (something I needed to learn the hard way, several times over – duh!) I always have enough chilis come up by themselves.

And I have an early planted cucumber planted last month ready to go out – Suyo Long is my favourite variety this year.  And a tromboncino or two, and a dozen Blue Lake beans about 15 cm tall already.  And the garden is full.

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seedlings ready for trainsplant

One of the most important insights that really changed the way I garden was realising just how long plants are babies for. It is still late winter, I know, but up here in northern NSW we’ve had a day over 28°C already, and another couple above 25°C  (scary, but let’s not go there). It’s been plenty warm enough for cool climate greens to germinate at their fastest.

But their fastest is pretty slow.  These babies are just under a month old, and they’re just now ready for transplanting out of the seed germinating box into individual pots with lots of compost and worm castings.  They will then be happy in the shadehouse for at least a few more weeks before planting out into the garden.

So, although I have no beds ready at all, I know by the time they need to go out, the chooks will have moved twice and I’ll have a bed cleared and mulched and fertilised and ready for them.  I’m trying to get a good sequential planting  rhythm going again so there’s a continuous supply.  So today I planted another round of seed of lettuces, silver beet, Italian silverbeet  (lucullus), leeks, spring onions, and aragula, and a first round of the summer greens – amaranth, Egyptian spinach, and all the basils. I potted on the  lettuces, leeks, chinese cabbages, raddicchio, silver beet, parsley, rocket, and coriander. And I planted out the last of the celery, kale, and broccoli raab for the winter.

So although I have lots of overgrown weedy neglected garden beds, I nearly have a full garden in train, and that feels very good.

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planting in July

Inspired by my own last post, I’ve got it together to go out in the rain and plant out a new bed.  I’m wet and muddy, but I did have such fun. And the wood stove is going so there is hot water to get clean and warm again, and visions of broccoli and caulis and onions and carrots and beets and peas and celery and spinach and lettuces and kale to be harvested in a few months.

Advanced seedlings are such a wonderful instant garden technique.  The chooks came off this bed a week ago and it was mulched but empty (apart from some stinging nettle they declined to clear for me).  The seedlings have been growing happily in the shadehouse for the last few months in pots of compost mixed with creek sand, with some worm castings and seaweed brew to keep them very healthy.  Within a couple of hours, I have fully planted garden, and within a couple of months, harvestable crops.

Today I’ve planted a new set of seeds in the shadehouse to keep the roll happening.  It’s a little early but here in northern NSW our winters are short.  The days are already perceptibly longer and in another week we will reach the point in the day length bell curve when the days start lengthening faster and faster.  All of a sudden the season will shift. Spring, though it is still unnoticeable, is already in the air.  It’s a point in the calendar that has been recognised forever, celebrated in Europe as Imbolc, or St Brigid’s Day, in north America as Groundhog Day, in Japan as Setsubun, in India as Vasanta, and probably by Australian Aborigines too, though we white Australians have been shamefully ignorant in learning from them.

So I’m taking a risk on planting the first of the summer fruiting annuals, hoping it will be warm enough for seeds to germinate.  I’ve laid some old windows over the boxes to make mini-glasshouses to urge them along a little.  I’ve planted capsicums,  eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans – several varieties of each.  If nothing else, it brings me visions of warm weather to come.

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garden in July

My garden has been shamefully, shamefully neglected lately.  Call yourself a gardener.  Lots and lots of other stuff going on including a couple of big projects, and that I’ll be becoming a grandma in early December which is very exciting.

The bandicoots burrowed into a bed so I put off planting it out till I got time to fix the fence.  It’s been too wet to mow, so I moved the chooks on without mulching a bed, and it sprouted weeds so I put off planting it till it was dry enough to mow.  We went away for a week’s holiday so I let everything in the shadehouse go. But in amongst all the putting it off, I found a day, a while ago to plant.  Half an hour of mowing to get some mulch, a bed where the chooks had been, some seedlings that were overgrown in the shadehouse and badly needed planting out, a couple of hours in the garden.

I thank myself when I find time like this. It’s deferred gratification, because like everything gardening you don’t see the results straight away.  But it means that we have broccoli and caulis coming on, peas and snow peas, carrots and onions and celery for winter stews, spinach and kale to add greens to anything, spring onions and coriander and parsley.

Once you have a garden established and a system that works, it doesn’t take much. Something I’m very grateful for at the moment!

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Today in my community we are getting together for a little bit of visioning and stone soup lunch to celebrate the point in the calendar when the lenthening days turn the corner and all of a sudden Spring is on its way.  If you graph the change in length of day, for the last three months it’s been barely changing, slowly slowly falling towards the winter solstice, then slowly slowly rising. Round about now though, it goes over the flattish hump on the top and start to dive steeply towards the equinox then on towards the long days of summer.  If you are in the northern hemisphere, all that is reversed.

The Celts called it Imbolc, which literally means “in the belly”.  Spring, though it may not show yet, is already here with its promise of new life, of sun and warm and dreams and ambitions and new projects. My chooks know it – they’ve started laying again.  The geese know it – the two adult males scrap without really hurting each other, then run around with their wings out like soccer players with their shirt over their head, loudly proclaiming victory.  The ducks know it – they’re investigating all sorts of weird places for nest suitability, even though both drakes were got by foxes this winter so sadly there will be no ducklings.

I’m hoping the asparagus hasn’t quite caught on yet, because the alternative explanation is that the wallabies are still getting in somewhere and having asparagus feasts every night. I’m still really cross about the way they completely decimated my nasturtiums and mint and lemon grass and vietnamese mint, all in one night, after finding a tiny little hole forced through by a bandicoot.

And it’s time for me to get back into my garden properly again, after several months of really neglecting it.  I find that, if I manage just a few hours every week, it just keeps producing. But if I miss just a few weeks, the jobs that need to be done before the next job start to pile up and it all falls in a heap and my blithe “so easy to grow at least the basics of food” starts to sound really hollow!

Roots and perennials planting days today and tomorrow, and I’m going to get these seed potatoes in the bed that I’ve just moved the chooks off, and plant a new round of carrots, spring onions, beetroot, Jerusalem and globe artichokes in the shadehouse.  I shall use my usual method for the spuds, planting them straight out into the bed, my usual method for the carrots and spring onions, planting them in individual little biodegradable pots, and my usual method for the beets, planting the seed in a seed box.  And, with any luck I’ll get some time to look at all my perennial herbs and see what needs dividing, transplanting, or replacing at this still secret very start of the growing season.

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