Equinox and Spring effects in a garden

Equinox and Spring effects in a garden

Since the winter solstice, the days have been getting longer, here in New Zealand. Then comes the equinox – when day and night are equal length. 12 hours each. What an interesting moment in the year.

Here in New Zealand, its on 23rd September 2017 at 8.02 am – so precise! [Aren’t astronomers amazing to be able to define such points in time so specifically?]

And then we have more light than darkness each day until the summer solstice.

Woo hoo! Summer is returning!

Time to start the new cycle of growth into the warmer weather. This is really the beginning of the new growing season [no matter that our ‘calendars’ say ‘Spring’ begins at the start of September]

Time to start more lettuce and summer greens. New root crops. Fruits and seeds too. All can begin again now.

It’s time to start the warmth-lovers too now – in a protected place [hot-house, window-ledge, cloches over pots on a patio, on a heat-pad]. By the time they are ready to plant outside there will be enough light and heat for them to flourish [end of October or early November usually]. Tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, chilies, capsicum, egg-plant, bitter melon and more.

We start these warmth-lovers inside on a heat-pad [for bottom warmth in the pots] then as their tiny first leaves shoot through the soil surface they are moved into bright light [outside for preference] so they grow sturdy stems. We still protect them with plastic covers and keep them on the patio in the warmer part.

If seedlings stay in low light, they stretch up searching for more light and become ‘leggy’ with delicate stems. Much more fragile and easily damaged when transplanting.

How warm is the soil compared with the air?

The open ground is often still cold even when the air is warm, especially in shaded and soggy places.  Few plants enjoy being planted into cold, soggy ground.

Wet ground takes longer to warm up than drier soil.

Check first – feel the soil with your skin. If its cold to your skin, its cold to a seed/seedling – which will sit and hardly grow at all. Then they are subject to all sorts of pests and diseases as they have little resistance. We do our best to grow strong, healthy plants by giving them the conditions they prefer.

With so much rain making for saturated soils here, gardening is challenging. This is when lighter soils and high organic content are a real benefit – there is still air space in the soil for healthy roots. It really pays to create soil with high organic content.

[PS – walking on soggy beds compacts them so there is no air in the soil for plant roots – put boards down to stand on if you must walk on the beds]

 

As the ground warms up, the ‘Spring flush‘ takes off, everything seems to sprout and grow upwards in leaps and bounds!

 

Often the first we realize is when our food crops shoot upwards and turn woody.

Crops which run to seed in Spring

Crops which have been feeding us through-out winter suddenly change – producing a tall flowering stalk and then masses of seeds. Lettuce, silver-beets, carrots, beetroot, parsnip, radishetc suddenly shoot up flowering stalks from the root in the ground.

[PS – this time of the year is a good time to keep an eye on root crops and pull any starting to shoot up before the roots turn really woody and become inedible]. Or to save your own seeds of your best ones – well-adapted to your area.

Choose the best plant of that crop to save your own seed. Check out how to collect true-breeding seeds of that crop before you begin.

  • Some are very easy to save true [eg lettuce].
  • Some require exclusion of other similar types and their pollen.

For example, beetroot and silver-beet will cross so we grow them far enough apart that seed stays true to the parents.

 

 

It is a great feeling to save seeds from your best plants so next year you will have quality seeds which work well in your place.

For more about saving seeds, here’s a post I wrote.

This is a great time to sort out seeds and get started planting for your summer and autumn meals. Plant what you and your family like to eat so there is an incentive to look after them too.

Use this ‘Spring flush’ to your advantage – when seeds make wonderful progress quickly, easily.

It’s time to imagine your vibrant, flourishing garden and to start sowing heaps of whatever it is that you like for this wonderful season [well, maybe that which grows in this season in your region too]

 

Have a wonderful Spring!

May you and your garden flourish!
Heather

 

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It’s time to sow seeds of leafy greens this week

It’s time to sow seeds of leafy greens this week

Sow seeds for luscious, tender leafy greens this next week – and best days are Thursday 21st September 2017 to Monday  25th [here in New Zealand]

 

 

In Auckland the weather has been alternated between winter chills and winds off the Antarctic through to warm and wet weather out of the tropics.  Welcome to Spring!

Let’s hope for good germination!  I will sow seeds throughout the week of

  • Lettuce – I left many varieties to seed so hopefully some will do well no matter what the weather does this year – hot/dry/cold/wet.
  • Silver-beet [including rainbow chard/ bright light beets – the ones with vibrant colored stems – so stunning to see in a garden] we left to seed in the garden and they are sprouting up now
  • Rocket [Arugula] is tasty rather than bitter at this time. We plant 2 types – the large leaf annual and the stronger, smaller-leaf perennial rocket
  • Mustard greens, or the giant red mustard is pretty nice early in the season before the heat of summer adds too much pepper bite.
  • Asian greens [assorted] – here they grow well in the cooler months – they grow so fast! We have Mizuna self-seeding. We grow 2 types – an ordinary green one as well as the deep red one – stunning in the garden [for a short time]
  • Endive  We grow 2 types – a broader leaf variety and a lovely fine, frilly variety. They are lovely and tender in cooler months so we enjoy them now. Both grow more slowly than lettuce.

This is a great time to have leafy greens grow well – they love cooler, wetter times.

 

Later, when the weather warms up they bolt to seed fast and produce fewer leaves which easily go bitter.

Enjoy delightful salads with a range of leaf types in these Spring months.

Beans, beans and more beans!

Beans, beans and more beans!

Our tricks to having [nice] beans over a l-o-n-g season.

By the end of winter we look forward to veggies we have not had for some months – tomatoes, zucchinis etc – and fresh beans! For us, beans are the first available of the summer crops while we wait [impatiently] for the rest.

Our bean supplying strategy has evolved over the years and starts with sowing a number of varieties in spring.

First to go in are dwarf beans ‘Prince’ into a bed with compost and covered with a plastic tunnel to warm it up; in a protected, sunny spot. These will crop first. They taste OK [if not terrific] and grow well in cooler conditions when most other beans struggle, so these ‘Prince’ beans are useful to fill that gap.

Maybe it’s time to put the first lot in now as we seem to have a warm, early Spring this year.

 

Then, next to go in when the ground is warm [maybe 3-4 weeks later, in October?], are our other favorite dwarf beans. 2 varieties:

‘Purple Tee Pee’. These taste nice and its easy to find the beans as they are different colors to the leaves and stems – neat. They crop prolifically and quite quickly.

Purple tee pee and butter bean

Also, in go dwarf butter beans which gives a crop of delicious yellow beans – when I look after them! The yellow beans are easy to find too, which I appreciate.  [No idea of the variety as I replant year after year and who knows which it was originally!]

 

At the same time I plant climbing ‘Emu’ beans on a trellis behind the dwarf beans. These are a staple for us. They take longer to start to crop than the dwarf beans so are flowering and ‘beaning’ prolifically as the dwarf beans finish – great timing.

 

Emu beans

  • taste good,
  • are string-less,
  • have a prolific crop [if looked after],
  • and – even better – they continue to flower and ‘bean’ even when the older beans are drying on the vine – a great benefit as I seem to miss so many until they are too big to be nice to eat. With other beans I find the crop of edible beans decreases the more old beans I miss on the vine. Then the vine dies. Emu beans keep on keeping on producing new tiny beans too.

 

We have 2 varieties of runner beans which are perennial so they re-grow from the roots each year when the ground warms up.

  • ‘Sunset runner’ has lovely pale orange flowers so its on the front fence.
  • ‘Painted Lady’ is a 2-toned red/white flower – also very pretty and where we can see it on the side fence.

We keep 1 plant of each even though we aren’t great runner bean fans for eating – they have lovely flowers. To us, there are sweeter, juicier, nicer options for eating.

Snake beans! ‘Red Noodle’ is a nice one with purple-ish beans so they are more visible than green ones. Taste fine too. They climb strongly and are of tropical origin so love hot weather when other beans are not so happy [when its too hot ordinary beans don’t set seed even if they flower]. Snake beans really come into their own then.

 

Snake beans - 'Red Noodle' 20170407
Snake beans – ‘Red Noodle’ 20170407

 

So, we start our bean harvest with

  • Prince‘ dwarf beans in spring.
  • Then the dwarf ‘Purple Tee Pee‘ and yellow butter beans are ready [so ‘Prince’ beans are left to form seed beans for next season].
  • Then the ‘Emu‘ beans are flourishing and give abundant crops [so the dwarf beans are left to produce seed beans for next season].
  • Then the Snake beans arrive and add diversity to our summer/autumn bean collection.
  • Runner beans are available for those occasions when other beans are in low supply.
  • Then we sow a late crop of ‘Prince‘ beans in March which [hopefully] feed us into winter [with a plastic tunnel cover added over them when the weather turned colder]

 

This sequence gives us nice beans from spring through until winter. Pretty good.

 

How we grow bean seedlings

First, I put the seeds into jars of water on the kitchen bench to swell up and sprout in the warmth of the kitchen. I rinse and empty off the water each day until I see tiny roots sprouting from the seeds. [I can also see if the seed is actually viable and will grow at all]

As soon as I see the seeds sprouting, I plant them into prepared garden beds [with compost and ‘Fodda’ nutrients added – just a little. Beans will make lots of leaves and few pods with too much rich ground].

We cover bean/pea plots with bird net or the blackbirds scratch the lot out searching for worms in the soil. If its really cold and windy we put plastic covers on before the bird netting [which holds the covers on even in high winds].

 

plastic covers over raised beds with bird netting over the top to hod all in place in strong winds
Plastic covers with bird netting over the top to hod all in place in strong winds

 

Corner posts, string or wire mesh make great trellises for climbing beans and peas.

Sometimes we surround a few seeds with cut-down plastic bottles as tiny protective hot-houses.

We put out snail bait [I use ‘Quash’ as it is iron based and doesn’t affect other soil life] as new legume seedlings are favorites of slugs and snails. A ‘night-patrol’ to collect any visible slugs and snails also helps reduce numbers. It’s amazing how many small seedlings disappear when 1 large snail wakes up from its winter sleep.

Then add labels [with dates] to help me remember what I planted where or I’m likely to put other things in the bed too, creating confusion and poor returns – it has happened over the years.

 

Harvesting tips

When crops are ‘beaning’ heaps, we pick beans every day or 2 so we collect them at their tenderest and tastiest – which are young ones. We pick beans when they are small – smaller than most people think are worth picking. Yet these are the ones which are most succulent, tender and tasty.

So when we grow our  own beans we can have the BEST quality rather than the crop which commercial growers get the best financial return on.

 

Anyway, I hope this has given some ideas for growing a l-o-n-g supply of beans from late spring through into winter. Pretty good when there is just a short time to wait for veg we like.

What are your favorites? How do you get a long bean season?

 

May you and your garden flourish!
Heather

Sow seeds for fruits and flowers this week! Woo hoo!

Sow seeds for fruits and flowers this week! Woo hoo!

It’s time to sow seeds for fruits and flowers this week – Friday 1st September 2017 + Saturday 2nd + Tuesday 5th September 2017 [here in New Zealand]

Before the full moon on Wednesday 6th September 2017.

An early Spring seems to have sprung!

In Auckland the weather has been milder than usual so we will sow lots of seeds for Spring.

 

Seeds need warm soil to sprout and grow so most tomatoes etc will go into pots on our back patio where they will be warm, out of the cold wind, and cared for – because I see them often there.

This is a wonderful time to sow and I’ll really enjoy sowing – there is such potential for wonderful future harvests – especially with an early Spring.

 

 

  • tomatoes [somewhere warm in seed trays. Our back patio, probably on the table is a good spot – leaving a little space for us to put out a meal to eat there too!]  I’ll sow a number of varieties so hopefully some will do well no matter what the weather does this year – hot/dry/cold/wet.
  • pumpkins/squashes/zucchini [courgettes]/cucumbers and other cucurbits can start in a warm spot as long as you can keep them warm [Also wonderful ones like bitter melons, spaghetti squash, gourds – but these go into the ground later as they need it warmer]
  • peas and beans [I sow direct and put out snail bait or surround them with plastic cut-off bottles to protect from snails and slugs which love baby seedling legumes]
  • Maybe chilies, peppers [capsicum] and eggplants [aubergine] in special little pots and tendered lovingly in the hope they will grow and fruit. Where we live often has cold southerly winds and this group like it hot! I make each a little ‘hot-house’ with a plastic bag over the pot and around the plants when I transplant them to the garden. Sometimes we get fruit.
  • Flowers of all sorts [well, the ones which like starting in Spring].

 

Open ground planting for heat-lovers [tomatoes, chilies, melons, corn, etc] is often given as late October/early November here in NZ.  I can transplant tomatoes, chilies, zucchinis then. They will be bigger and more resistant to weather and pests too.

Some plants do not transplant well so it is much better to wait for warm ground and sow directly in the soil so there is no root disturbance.  I’ll wait to plant corn and melons –  it’s way too cold for them to thrive yet – even if the air is warm, the ground is not warm enough for them yet.

I so often have got impatient to grow these and planted them early as the sun was out, the air was warm, yet the ground was still cold. Seeds often did not sprout. Seedlings sat and shivered and were a magnet for snails, slugs and diseases. For strong healthy plants, the ground needs to be warm so I try for more patience.

 

This week the moon is growing towards full and the days listed above are when many aspects line up to give optimum good germination for strong seedlings – whether in the ground or in pots or a tray on a heat pad. Worth a try I think.

 

May your sowing and planting be successful with wonderful outcomes.
Heather

Sow seeds of leafy greens this week

Sow seeds of leafy greens this week

Sow seeds for luscious, tender leafy greens this next week – Thursday pm 24th August 2017 to Monday  28th 2017 [here in New Zealand]

After the dark of the moon on Tuesday 22nd August 2017.

Spring is springing! A new energy of the cycle of growth is appearing for us down-under. Buds are form on deciduous plants and bursting into blossom or leaf. Joy oh joy.

The days are getting longer.

Yet the ground is still cold and wet, wet, wet here in Auckland. Seeds sown outside take a long time to sprout and grow.

To have a successful planting for a good harvest we need to give delicate, tender seedlings protection from:

  • the heaps of slugs and snails which miraculously appear now.  Keeping them away from delicious, tender new sprouting seedlings requires some effort.
  • strong cold winds
  • birds – especially black-birds which are nesting at present and determinedly scratch for worms scattering seeds and seedlings out of the soil in their efforts
  • any pets which can dig [or neighborhood cats]
  • possums and rats which can cause havoc if you have them around

 

What sort of  protection?

These are my favorites: Full plastic cover over hoops on raised beds.

plastic covers over raised beds with bird netting over the top to hod all in place in strong winds
plastic covers with bird netting over the top to hold all in place in strong winds
  • a protective surround. Cut down plastic bottles, one per seedling can work. I put a bird net over the lot as we have determined black-birds which up-root most such attempts.
  • a plastic bag cover over a frame with the plastic buried into the ground so there is no access [+ snail bait/deterrent for the determined ones].
  • a plastic tunnel cover [with covered ends too] +snail bait/deterrent
  • any other inventive physical barrier
Beans growing in winter under a plastic tunnel 20170529
A plastic tunnel – very useful at this time

This is a time when last year’s leafy greens suddenly bolt to seed, sending up tall spires of flowers. The leaves become bitter and less appealing.

 

What shall we sow?

  • Lettuce – I’ll sow a number of varieties under a plastic tunnel so hopefully some will do well no matter what the weather does this year – hot/dry/cold/wet.
  • Silver-beet [including rainbow chard/ bright light beets – the ones with vibrant colored stems – so stunning to see in a garden] In fact, they are popping up all over as I left last year’s seeding plants to share their seeds in the garden
  • Rocket [Arugula] 
  • Mustard greens, or the giant red mustard is pretty nice early in the season before the heat of summer adds too much pepper bite and it goes to seed rather than make tender leaves. It’s an eye-catcher in the garden.
  • Asian greens [assorted] – here they grow well in the cooler months – they grow so fast! Mizuna is a favorite for us.
  • Endive  We grow 2 types – a broader leaf variety and a lovely fine, frilly variety. They are lovely and tender in cooler months so we enjoy them now. Both grow more slowly than lettuce.

 

This is a great time to have leafy greens They love cooler, wetter times and can grow well.

 

Later, when the weather warms up they bolt to seed fast and produce fewer leaves which easily go bitter.

Enjoy delightful salads with a range of leaf types in these cooler, wetter months.

 

Sow seeds of leafy greens this week

Sow seeds of leafy greens this week

In our garden in Auckland NZ, the open ground is too cold for much success planting there.

If you have

  • a hot-house,
  • tunnel-house,
  • conservatory or
  • warm, bright window

then this is a time to sow seeds for leafy greens. Best days are Friday 28th July, Saturday 29th and the morning of Sunday 30th July 2017 [here in New Zealand].

After the new moon on 23rd July 2017 – which always gives the possibility of a new beginning.

In Auckland the weather is cold and the ground is cold and wet.  

This is a time I

Grow micro-greens or sprouts instead now.

 

For more about our experiments with sprouts and micro-greens, go here.

 

 

 

Sow seeds of leafy greens this week

Sow seeds of leafy greens this week

Sow seeds for leafy greens next week,

especially Sunday 25th June and early morning of Monday 26th June [here in New Zealand]

After the new moon on Saturday 24th June 2017.

And we are after the solstice too so new beginnings call us.

In Auckland the cold weather has set in and plants in the open ground are only growing slowly, if at all.

I still can’t resist planting, its such an optimistic effort, even at this colder time of the year. I plant seedlings rather than seeds now. Then cover them with a plastic tunnel to warm the ground and protect the delicate seedlings from the cold winter winds.

Beans growing in winter under a plastic tunnel 20170529
Growing in winter under a plastic tunnel 

The seeds sown in autumn of silver-beet, red-stemmed beets, parsley and rocket which are beside the covered bed are green, vibrant and able to withstand winter now. They will feed us through until spring.

This is a time to harvest what was sown earlier in the year:

  • Lettuce – a number of varieties mature in cooler weather – which they like.
  • Endive – we like the ‘tres fine maraichere‘ variety with its fine frilly abundant leaves – and is tasty rather than bitter for a long time – and forms a lovely ground cover if planted close together
  • Silver-beet and ‘bright lights beets’ [with beautiful colored stems – red, pink, yellow – sometimes they simply glow with color]
  • Giant Red Mustard is nice when young, gets hotter as it ages. [More info] It can grow as tall as me and leaves can grow up to about  50 cm [2 ft]!
  • Radicchio is tender and sweet to eat in cooler months so we enjoy them now
  • Asian greens – such quick growers! Must remember to keep an eye on them or they bolt to seed before we get to eat them.

 

From now on we can plan for Spring planting, enjoy seed catalogs and organize our gardens to be ready when the weather and soil warm up.