Raised Beds - June Update

Posted by robin on 02 Jul 2008 | Tagged as: chickens, raised beds

On the weekend we created a new chicken run, using steel waratahs (Y stakes) and some wire netting. It only takes an hour or so to setup this way and can be reconfigured at any time to give the girls a new bit of ground.

This time we decided to include two of the raised beds in the chicken run, an easy way to add their very high in nitrogen fertiliser as another green layer before we finish filling them. It also has the added benefit of giving the chickens some more vertical space to play in. It might sound funny, but the chickens look really happy jumping up and down over the edges of the beds and sitting on the pile of gravel excavated from below the beds, particularly our star-layer Pearl the Light Sussex. By the way, did I mention we now have three eggs a day? Happy chickens don’t stop laying in winter it seems.

A full raised bed article will update our progress soon.

Winter Frosts

Posted by robin on 21 Jun 2008 | Tagged as: vegetables

A Cold Start
This morning we had another -4 degree C frost. Under the light of the full moon it was a beautiful sight, reminding me that while it might stop me from growing year round tomatoes, bananas and other fruits which prefer a more tropical clime, that there is an advantage to a crisp sunny winter morning. Gardening has brought me closer to nature because of the sensation of creating a living thing, but the sight of crystalline patterns on vegetable leaves reminds me that nature displays beauty even in non-living things.


After the first frost we spend less time worrying about insect pests on our plants, especially the green caterpillar that is my enemy. Some fruits need a cold winter, like the apricot which needs a cold winter to fruit, and brussel sprouts which love the frost. I’ve also read that frost can help to break up soil through the action of the expanding water as it freezes.

Avoiding the Frost
The best way to protect against frost is to plant in frost free areas, all gardens have microclimates, areas which stay slightly warmer and stay frost free, often these are next to the house, under a tree or a wall that stores heat. Sometimes you might be lucky and a complex set of factors give you an area that gets full winter sun and is less prone to frost. That’s where you plant your vegetables! If you can’t avoid the frost, use a cloche or a bit of frost cloth. Last year we protected some plants using some discarded bubble wrap, draped over some stakes which seemed very effective. Eventually we plan to build a greenhouse, heated in part by the chickens.

Frost Hardy Vegetables

Plants who survive: Plants who suffer:
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Cabbage
  • Brocolli
  • Beetroots
  • Silverbeet
  • Broad Beans
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Turnips (a most underrated vegetable)
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Eggplant
  • Cucumber
  • Sweetcorn

Photos by Clare, click to see larger

Growing Vegetables From Seed and Saving Seeds

Posted by robin on 18 Jun 2008 | Tagged as: vegetables

Nature’s Plans

For me, the simple beauty in a tiny brassica or lettuce seed is that they have wonderful complexity sleeping away in a tight little package. They lie in wait for the right conditions of soil moisture and warmth to unfold themselves into a simple pair of leaves in a few days. Each time I water them, they release a little detail of their full potential, remembered from their parent plant with all the good and bad characteristics that go with it.

Chokos or Chayotes sprouting

We recently received two Chokos (Chayote) from a colleague, one of them has already sprouted inside the fruit, apparently the seed needs the fruit to establish its own ideal conditions. These amazing creatures seem like landing craft for introducing their sprawling vegetation from another planet. Their fertile form screams to me their nature of speedy growth and huge harvest. In return for these wonderful creatures I gave my colleague two of our best heads of garlic from last season, ready to be planted on the solstice so they can spread their successful genes across the country.

Symbiosis Between You and Your Garden

Saving, sharing and growing from seed is a great way to express your humanity as a part of your ecosystem as well as redevelop a connection to nature. Saving seed from your garden is becoming increasingly important, Agribusiness control seed through aggressive purchasing and genetic modification, killing biodiversity to protect their profits. In the US, Burpees, a large seed company, reports that they have doubled their sales in the past year and are out of stock of some species. We are saving seed from a few of our plants this year, the chioggia beetroot, buttercrunch lettuce, silver beet, and our favourite tomatoes. This will ensure we still have access to our favourites as well as improving on the previous generation to create a local heirloom we can pass on to other Wairarapa gardeners.

When to Start

Winter is such a slow time in the garden in Carterton, we have regular frosts which slow the growth down in all but the most stalwart vegetables. The leaves have fallen from all the trees that lose them, and the chickens look annoyed at the weather (although Sausage and Pearl still give us two eggs a day). But looking through our seed packets, the online catalogues and picking the best plants from which to save seed is a form of gardening that can be done inside or through a window, with a warm fire, a pot of tea and a block of chocolate. Imagining and planning the garden and the flavours we’ll taste later in the year, knowing that this year we’ll be planting from our own seed collections.

Saving Seed

  • Plants that have gone to seed attract beneficial insects to combat pests
  • Self seeded vegetables seem to taste even sweeter than those you planted
  • Pick your two best plants and leave them to go to seed
  • Store your harvested seed in a cool dry place
  • Pass the seed on to your friends, give your favourite food a genetic advantage
  • Try planting seed from a particularly tasty piece of fruit you bought, it may not grow or be true to type, but what do you have to lose?

Contact us if you want to share in our seeds.

How to grow: Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Posted by robin on 13 Jun 2008 | Tagged as: vegetables

Sci-fi Vegetable
I think purple sprouting cauliflower would be a better name for these vegetables, they are not that similar to supermarket broccoli at all. In the twilight, the iridescent purple heads look like something from another planet, I think next year I’ll inter plant them amongst other things to add some colour to the garden and to help control pests. The central head is eaten first, and if you leave some of the florets sticking out the side, they will continue to grow and you should get a second harvest. They have a lovely sweet and delicate taste.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli Close Up

Making Life Hard
The real challenge was the white butterfly that lays its eggs on the leaves of brassicas produces hundreds of green caterpillars that devour the leaves and hide inside the bit you eat. Since we learned about the amount of insect life in a healthy garden, eating the odd bug seems almost enjoyable, but I prefer to keep it down to a minimum. There are a few ways we tried to beat these guys, first I spent ages picking the tiny yellow eggs off the leaves a couple of times a week, I slackened off for a week and came back to some pretty holy leaves. I caved in and hit them with derris dust, which is ground up roots, or rotenone, technically organic but still a bit nasty, this did the trick but I really don’t want to use pesticides if I can avoid it. Once the frosts hit, these pests disappear pretty quickly.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli Patch

Chickens to the Rescue
I was reading a Jackie French book about companion planting, she mentioned that the white butterfly recognises brassicas by their silhouette and being territorial, will only land if there is no other white butterfly already on the plant. She mentioned placing eggshells under the plants as decoys. I was skeptical at first so I experimented - there is no doubt, the butterfly are scared of the egg shells. Some still land but a much more manageable amount. Inter planting can also help to disguise the brassica so I think I’ll try that next year.

Egg Shell Decoys

How to grow them

  • Sow seeds (we use Kings) inside in winter or outside in spring then transplant
  • Plant them in good fertile ground with pea straw mulch
  • Inter plant with other tall plants like celery
  • Egg shells under leaves as decoy butterflies
  • Inspect leaves and squish butterfly eggs and caterpillars as they appear
  • If you really must, use derris dust or pyrethrin spray
  • Harvest from autumn through winter

How to eat them

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