Friday, 4 July 2014

Winter garden, better late than never!

So we are well and truly into winter. It’s strange as it officially begun on the 1st of June, then the winter solstice (shortest day of the year) was on 21st, signifying that the days should start to draw out from then on and we’re heading toward summer. Yet the coldest month here is July?… and it has definitely delivered to far!

This is an old pic, but I love the colours the sky produces in winter
I guess ‘cold’ being in the tropics is all relative. Nothing (such as buildings) is really geared up to deal with colder weather, including the clothes… and even the ex-pats! But in gardening terms we don’t have to worry about frosts (as it doesn’t get that cold) and the days are (generally) warm (but not hot), dry and sunny. So no excuse really for not getting in the garden. Or in fact any of those other projects we had been putting off due to heat, humidity or rain!

Now as a general rule I would advise ‘little and often’ when it comes to gardening. This way you avoid it becoming a ‘task’ and it is enjoyable. This year however I have neglected my patch(es), [yes you’ve guessed it here come my excuses] initially due to being (very) ill through my pregnancy, which happened to coincide with the hot and wet months. Meaning any chance I felt well enough the weather seemed to have other ideas.

Really I needed some dedication, and I am ashamed to say it- as this post is being shared as part of the Garden Share Collective. A group of dedicated and inspirational garden bloggers (of all shapes and sizes- that’s their gardens I mean). But I guess I have returned as I initially joined the group to commit to posting about my gardening. As I felt it was probably one of the more neglected parts of our smallholding adventures- at least in posting terms. So I am fessing up and putting things right.

So this month, given the ideal conditions… even if mine is developing at an exponential rate; I am 31wks writing this. So keen to get things under control, before I develop another ‘reason’ to put it off. Besides we want this lifestyle to be part of our child’s upbringing… So I guess I had best start as I mean to go on.

So I guess the key was to break it down into sections- both for my planting plan and work wise. So that it wasn’t such an over awing chore, manageable sections that I could turn around into productive gardens sooner provide a positive morale boost. And as I had sown some seeds that had sprouted as well as purchased a few seedlings that required a home, these were great motivation to get started.

So here’s the overall plan (from the beginning) and I have taken a few more shots as its gone in. As like the best laid plans, things change (or develop). A plan is not essential, but I like to be organised and it helps to know what I put where… for reference at a later date. But especially if you’re going to attempt ‘companion planting’ or some other combination gardening techniques to best utilise space etc. it doesn’t hurt to have a plan.

In our case I started by clearing the ground level bed, this has previously been (last year) my ‘vine bed’. Its not raised like the other beds and is therefore great in the drier months, as it is closer to the natural water table and requires far less watering; ideal for some thirsty vine plants. The issue is in the wetter months it is far wetter and has been known to become water logged.

So this year I am going for a little structure and rotating my growing in this area. So the plants I do put in do not become too out of hand. And I can hopefully make the most of the moist conditions for the dry season.

So I dedicated a weekend to weeding this and the smallest (adjoining) garden bed. As it suited my planting arrangement; for those I needed to get out first. And the second bed seemed achievable. Now it didn’t take all of two days to clear these, probably about 2-3 hours. Then we turned the soil using the rotary cultivator (Matt bought me for my birthday last year). Before allowing the chickens at it for a few days- now chickens can be both friend and foe to a garden; they are great at clearing weeds, providing fertiliser and turning over soil- scratching around and dust bathing etc. But they are a nightmare if sowing seeds or planting our seedlings. So once they had enjoyed their ‘holiday’ in the patch I set about planting out, setting up trellises and frames for the climbing plants and (vitally) fencing the beds off.

The frames are simple bamboo and twine arrangements, for trellises I recycled the garden mesh that I attempted to use as a barrier for the garden last year. It was too low and far too easy for the chickens to penetrate. But did work well as a plant support and is quick to put up.

For the actual fencing, this year we’re going chicken wire. So star pickets in- meaning it can come down as quickly as it went up (if necessary). But its taller, more stable and hopefully far more effective! But due to the height, this does also restrict our access- as I don’t need any reason not to weed! So am having to plan for gates and it obviously has to look presentable.

In planting terms the beans are dwarf varieties- purple king, cherokee was, snake beans,- each bamboo A frame supports 2 varieties (one either side) and the final frame supports both snow peas and sugar snap peas.

In between these I have planted a few sweet potatoes that had been divided and begun sprouting (these are great for growing from scraps). I am hoping they will help supress weeds whilst the beans and stakes can provide support if necessary. At the moment I have left space alongside to expand the beans and peas that could eventually use for pumpkin vines. If I decide to grow them in the veg patch this year. As they do produce quite well in the pig or chicken pens (on their own) or I may interplant some in the landscapes or by the compost heap as a weed suppressant.   

Next I have 2 varieties of Eggplant (aubergines)- these are seedlings I bought and not ones I have grown from seed. (I am hoping some heirlooms may pop up in the patch from last year- if so these will be transplanted too. Although I will probably still order a few more varieties, as I love the diversity of the heirlooms I have grown in the past, where these are little more (I want to say traditional, but that’s the opposite of what I mean)- but in line with what’s in the supermarkets. The other issue with buying seedlings is that to buy 2 varieties I now have 12 plants and really 2-3 is more than enough to supply a family and have a few for friends and the pigs. As these are a good yielding plant once they are going! So I am thinking I will be making plenty of chutney later on this year. The same can be said for my zucchini plants. I have 4 black jack these will produce a steady supply of the dark green variety, so I will keep an eye out at the local markets too, as I love the yellow and golden varieties.

And then I have a couple of tomato varieties. It’s funny that I plant so many different types of tomatoes, considering I don’t particularly like them. But I keep trying in the hope that I will find a variety that I like to eat as they are, other than that other people like them and they are very useful for the kitchen. That and I still love the smell of the plants; remind me of my Bamp’s (on my Mam’s side) and Nan’s (on my Dad’s) greenhouses. But this year I am trailing a technique of supporting the plants using twine, treaded from one stake to another (something I saw on River Cottage Australia)- so I’ll let you know how it goes. As in the past I have found trellises are never tall enough, or stable enough to support the eventual weight. And wire surrounds become cumbersome and I end up cutting my hands and eventually ripping the whole plant out, as I cannot prune the older branches or get at the fruit. So I’ll let you know how this goes.

Then along the length I have planted a couple of cucumber varieties on stakes and trellises. I have tried to plant height in between or amongst vines (depending on how dense or large they tend to grow). TO maximise the space we have without overcrowding the bed. So hopefully I’ve got the balance right- guess only time will tell.

Then in the raised bed I’ve plated quite a few chilli and capsicums (pepper) varieties- habaneros, jalapeno, sweet yellow, golden wonder, purple beauty. I probably got carried away, but also found a few ‘discounted’ plants that didn’t look as desirable. But I figure if I purchase 1 variety for x amount and get 6 good plants then that’s fine, but if I can get 6-8 good plants of 4 varieties and a few that maybe salvageable, then I cannot seem to help myself- they find their way into my trolley! Guess it’s that bargain logic, along with the idea that you could be saving something.

Along with some corn (again a salvage purchase as A. I don’t really like corn and B. I’m not growing fields of the stuff, I’m just trying it). Again these are all plants with height, so I have planted my Asian vegetables in this bed, as they are lower growing, fast turn around and will thrive in sun and partial sun (if the corn or chilli/capsicum plants get too big).

I still have 3 raised beds to do. I have some lettuce ready to plant out and radishes and beetroot seedlings on their way, so I will probably start with the end bed made from 3 converted pallets. Then the one nearest the cow paddock, as this has fennel and celery still going in it (under the weeds).
What I have already done is the herb patch. A bit unusual to separate a herb patch from your veggies- especially as so many make great companion plants. (Tomatoes and bail, eggplant/aubergine and tarragon etc.) But ours is situated at the front of the house, along the side of the shed. In what was (when we bought the place) and unproductive landscape garden, whose main purpose was to screen he shed from the view of the living areas (I guess). Which not only seemed that it would interfere with the shed slab as it got bigger and more established, but seemed to provide an ideal environment of snakes and spiders. Which was less than desirable... so they had to go!     

I could have planted out a decorative bed, but it made far more sense as a herb patch; due to its convenience from the house and therefore the kitchen and it still provides a wonderful welcome scent when you’re approaching the house.
The existing herbs were weeded and pruned; the basil that had seeded (and died) was removed and the rosemary that was being suffocated by what I think was a tropical type of lavender and tarragon was relocated. Hopefully it survives (fingers crossed thrives) in its new position, but realistically it cannot do any worse than where it was. So once replanted, along with a few new seedlings, including a few basil plants that had shot up in the fire pit- where we had burned a few old basil branches- as mossies and flies don’t like basil.  I added a few new seedlings’ a second variety of oregano, sage, coriander and parsley. Once bedded in and watered I mulched- now mulch for those experienced gardeners, or really anyone who has been paying attention to most gardening programs/magazines of late would know mulch is a summer thing. But as the summer is drier, so you mulch to conserve water and in winter you want the rain to penetrate the soil.  On that logic I am mulching (it doesn’t appear to have done any harm in past years). As here (in the tropics) winter is our dry period, or little rain and extended cooler, sunny months. And a big win it helps prevent or supress weeds. [But if you have any advice on this matter please comment]. For mulch we use ‘cane trash’ which is widely available from local growers as sugar cane was once the primary industry of this area, and is still an extensive part of it.

I have also ‘fed’ and mulched our fruit trees as these are fruiting well and need tending to. If you read regularly you might be aware we have had quite a good citrus yield this year- especially from our lime tree. All our trees are still relatively young so this was both exciting and surprising. So plenty of lime recipes over the last month- marmalades, cordial/squash, key lime pie, curries, as well as a few trials- like freezing segments for drinks (flavour and ice cube in one!). Am sure there will be a few more to come.

 So over the next month I intend to clear those remaining beds. Sow a few more seeds/beans both directly and in seedling trays and hopefully plant out a few more that have started. Hopefully it will be productive then and require minimal attention around my approaching due date.

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