One of the great things about our house and garden was that it came complete with a big five-bed garden, all raised beds edged with railway sleepers. The soil is fantastic in most of the beds, well nourished and a rich dark chocolate colour with a beautiful crumbly consistency or tilth. The entire
garden, about four by 12 Metres Square, is bordered by comfrey, which provides oodles of compost material and is a great soil conditioner.
Early spring with comfrey surrounding garden
The big garden has meant I have been able to realise one of my aims – to be self sufficient in potatoes.
Organic potatoes for the picking
The past two seasons I have grown enough potatoes to last us 10-11 months of the year. We have also had ample squash and courgettes, loads of leafy salad greens, beans, beetroot, brassicas, garlic, celery, herbs, tomatoes, silver beet and so on.
When we’ve become really busy in the middle of summer, when everything is growing like crazy, including the weeds, the garden has had to fend for itself much of the time, which has meant my close plantings have sometimes meant the bigger bossier plants have taken over, and I lose track of where things are, and one or two have described my lovely garden as “messy”.
But I’m happy that the garden can run itself for a while, and what I have is heaps of squash and loads of potatoes to show for it, and the ability to be self sufficient in veges through to late autumn.
Closed for the winter
About late autumn, the local climate packs up its growing bags and goes north for the winter. Things suddenly stop growing, even the silver beet, and until I get set up with some small tunnel houses, which I hope to do this season, there is not much to do but turn to the local organic shop for winter supplies.
This spring I have stocked up on a larger variety of seeds than I’ve planted in the last two years, hoping I’ll have more time to nurture them and protect the smaller plants from the over takers.
Seed catalogue of dreams
My seed catalogue arrived in the mail at just the time I was starting to think, “Seed buying time!” I added another ten or so packets to my collection, including asparagus. Now that we have our solar hot water and want to stay in this house and make the most of it, I can commit to the longer lead in time for asparagus.
I’m also thinking it’s time to go and source a couple of fruit trees, like apples, pears, plums, maybe nectarines. Where I’m going to put them I have no idea, as the garden is filling up, but we’ll find a spot.
A few weeks ago I dug out the trays I have collected, found some of the choicest soil in the garden - just using my own garden soil seems to work fine for seed raising - and with the help of our three-and-a-half year old son, Jake, sowed the first batch, including Mizuna, lettuce “Meriveille”, silver beet, tomatoes “Ace” and “Beefsteak”, dill, broad bean, celery, cucumber, purple sprouting broccoli and Pak Choy.
Quaker garden toolshed vision
I look forward to the days when I have a garden shed to spread out in. Like all ancient villas that have been left largely unchanged, storage is at a premium. There is no room for a driveway down the side with the garage at the back, and no old garden shed has been left to fall down gracefully in the back garden, so in the meantime, our tools go rusty under a corner of the house. This, my current “garden shed” requires me to bend over double to get into and to back out the way I came, not a graceful part of my gardening day.
I have the perfect place to raise my seedlings in our sunroom - in the sense that it’s sunny and sheltered, but otherwise its completely unsuitable as it has become our storeroom until we get our storage issues sorted.
One wooden tray holding a group of seedlings sits perched precariously on a chilly bin sitting
precariously on a group of boxes. One tray fits on the windowsill. The cat suns herself neatly between the two trays, in a gap only cats would sleep in. She’s been very agile about squeezing in there but did knock over my cucumber seedlings this week. The other tray sits on a pile of vintage suitcases containing hand-me-down children’s clothes that will one day be the right size.
I look forward to the day when I have a proper garden shed with benches for seed raising and room to nicely display my tools, which will be wonderfully well kept by then, cleaned and oiled. The whole thing will have the Zen beauty of a Shaker gardening shed.
Once my first batch of seeds was sown, I turned to my catalogue in search of a supplementary supply. Within days, they arrived in my mailbox, most of them chosen from the organic section of the catalogue. Organic seeds have not been dipped in chemical preservative, but they are also well suited to organic growing conditions, often being more pest and disease resistant.
I also ordered chilli and asparagus seeds and bought non-organic celery seedlings, as the first batch of celery I sowed did not come up.
I have also found that without a glasshouse (another thing on the wish list), growing tomatoes is much more of a challenge in this southern cooler climate, where the growing season just isn’t quite long enough. So although I will plant my organic tomato seeds, even though I haven’t had much success the last two seasons, I have also done what worked last year, bought a non organic tomato plant which is already nearly a foot high.
The head start, combined with the one spot in the garden (a north facing wall), which seems to allow sufficient warmth for fast growth and ripening, should ensure I have a guaranteed small supply of tomatoes later in summer.
Artichoke in flower (at rear)
This week I direct sowed the new batch of seeds in the ground. I practice an informal rotation method, generally moving things round within the same bed or across beds but rather than a strict rotation between beds, I adjust it so I can put lettuces, etc in richer patches of soil which I know they will like best.
Some of the beds are likely to get more overgrown than others, the one that seems easiest to manage weed wise is best for the smaller plants that need more attention. One of the beds is sandy, another one not yet as richly composted with more of a clay texture to the soil. It grows potatoes and brassicas well.
Rather than planting in long rows, I now plant in patches of small rows or groups, and I also plant the same variety in different patches throughout the garden so that I can experiment with conditions to find the ideal spot. Some parts of the garden are more sheltered, some shadier than others. Basically a variety of micro-conditions exist that I can use to our benefit.
Direct sowed this week were beetroot - we’ve discovered that roast beetroot is delicious, giving us a new lease on life beyond the traditional beetroot in vinegar recipe - mesclun, cos lettuce, buttercrunch lettuce, a patch of corn, “slenderette” beans, basil, courgettes and turnips - I thought I’d try these for a change, but we may end up with a virtual paddock-full given that Jake got hold of the packet and sowed a few dozen more while I had my back turned.
This weekend I hope to get the asparagus bed in, and also sow some cauliflower and broccoli.