I probably have Kings Seeds to thank for the progress in our garden this month. After writing last month's blog, I felt inspired to try to make some serious progress. It's also imperative to actually get something done when you are writing a monthly blog about your progress in the garden. One month of planning is acceptable. Two months is just laziness!
I'm glad to report that there has been lots of progress in our garden this month, both on the planning, and the practical side. Sadly, the big tree has gone....we took it down over the Easter break, and it is now a large stack of firewood. The tree was so dead that most of it is ready to burn this winter!
Our one Garden Bed
Remember this? This was the messy space in front of the house. This area was to be this month's project. It was just a mess of scrappy shrubs and ancient rose bushes, mulched with vast quantities of river stones. Out came the plants....two days of cutting them back, cutting them up, digging up the root balls and adding everything to the compost pile. The neighbour said that I would need help to remove the large rose bushes, but that made me more determined to do it by myself. A bit of digging and one large kick and it was out, leaving me only a couple of souvenir scratches.
Once the plants were removed, the real work began....removing the river stones. Nine wheelbarrows of them. Nine HEAVY wheelbarrows. So heavy that the wheelbarrow felt as though it had a flat tyre! I was grateful that the stone-layers had laid weed mat down first, as it did make it a bit easier to remove the stones.
I trundled the stones around to the back fence and used them as beds for storing our new mushroom logs off the ground. (We made more mushroom logs this month).
Once the stones were gone, the bed was dug over. The soil wasn't looking fantastic, after years under the weed mat – it desperately needed some organic matter. I fetched vast quantities of horse manure from the nearby horse-tethering-reserve and dug that in, along with some organic compost that I (gulp) had to buy.
At that point, probably the best move would have been to sow a green manure crop and leave the whole bed until Spring.
The long-term vision, (from my point of view), is to have a cottage garden in front of the house. With that in mind, I was able to rescue my poor, pot-bound iris plants, which had travelled with me from our previous garden. They have been separated, cut back and planted out in this bed, along with a selection of flowers which I hope to enjoy next year. The whole bed is looking a big bare and one-dimensional at the moment but next year I am looking forward to tall Irises, Aquilegias nodding their pretty heads, Antirrhinums, Stock, Sweet William and Viscaria. I'm not sure how some of those will handle the cold weather when it comes, but I know that the violas will be fine, so I popped lots of those in as well. It's nice to have their smiling faces in the garden.
Since this bed is still the only garden bed on the property, I also needed to use it for my vegetable seedlings, which were now big enough to need a home, so they have been planted out along with the flowers. There are leeks at the back of the bed, spring onions at the front, and spinach, beetroot, lettuces and herbs scattered around. The white butterflies ate most of the brassica seedlings when I wasn't watching, and although I have a couple of cavalo nero seedlings in pride of place in the garden, I think they were planted way too late in the season and just aren't big enough to be of any significance through winter. Shame. Finally, I mulched the garden lightly with sawdust from the tree we removed. Then I sowed some radish seeds randomly throughout.
So that was week one ….
The Garden Plan
All of this action had an unexpected but welcome result. My other half decided that he had better work on our garden design (before I started random gardening projects in all the wrong places). So over the next few days he produced a permaculture garden plan.
We've included something that has been on our wish list for a while, and will be invaluable in our colder climate – a glasshouse. It may be a while until we get it, but it's on the plan! Other things on the plan include a feijoa hedge, a grape pergola over the compost bins, an asparagus bed, annual vegetable beds, a potting and seed-raising space, espaliered fruit trees along the fence lines, a small pond and a food forest / orchard area. Since it's just for us, the plan isn't prettily presented in colour, but we are very excited to have the bones of the plan in place. It will be a work in progress (I still have to fight for space for the pizza oven and we haven't yet decided whether we can have chickens... or quail??)
As the voice of reason, my other half also counselled against me dashing around excitedly planting spring bulbs all over the show. He's right, you know. Who knows where they should be put in the long term? So there has been a bit of container gardening this month.
I have sown freesia bulbs and anemones in pots, and mulched them. They are already coming up, so that is exciting. Nasturtiums are another flower that I love, so I sowed another big pot with nasturtium seeds and they have since come up as well. Nasturtiums everywhere, that's what I say!
The zucchini plants, which had done their dash, have been turfed out of their pots, and I have replaced them with potted colour, to brighten up the front of the house. There are a couple of daffodil bulbs in there as well.
A few of my container plants won't like the frost we will get here, so I have moved the Lemon Grass, Lemon Verbena and French Tarragon to a warm, sheltered place under the eaves. Now I have to remember to water them.
The only other container gardening has been some messing around with microgreens. They're always a welcome addition to a meal (top tip: add radish rambo microgreens to your sushi rolls....they add brilliant colour and the spicy taste is fantastic in sushi!).
I've also sown some additional English Lavender seeds, since we have now worked out that we need about twenty plants if we are to have them in the beds all around the house. I'm glad to be growing them from seeds because that means that until the plants are nice and big, I can postpone the job of removing the river stones and weed mat from around the house and digging it all over. Now I know what a big job it will be! I've also sown some more spinach and beetroot.
The final thing I have done this month is harvest the olives from the tree on the verge outside our house. The olives are quite small, and I'm new to olive harvesting. There are a few different ways to cure olives: water cures, brine cures, and lye cures. As a soap maker, I happen to have lye here at home, and after a bit of online research, I decided that a lye cure might be worth trying – it fast-tracks the removal of the bitter compounds in the olives. I followed the directions I found in this blog post at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, and so far, so good. After 12 hours in the lye, the olives were rinsed over the next couple of days, and are now in their first brine, as you can see from the photo above. Next week I will make up a stronger brine, and will add some flavourings. I'll keep you posted on the end results, but at this stage the olives are already really nice! It was so much faster than just brining.
So what's next?
The main task for the next month will be sourcing fruit trees for our food forest/orchard. We're planning to put them on front lawn, which faces the sun and has a significant slope....we'll be putting in swales to ensure efficient water usage. More on that later.
Another project I have in mind is to set up a cold frame. I like the idea of using hay bales and an old window as a temporary cold frame.... (by the way, if you don't want to get sucked into the internet and waste lots of your precious gardening time on a distraction, do NOT Google hay bale gardening!)