Belladonna Bess

An edible garden in Wellington, NZ

Very frustrated June 30, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 10:29 pm

I went out to take a quick look at the garden this morning, and there’s more dog digging damage. I’m not sure that any of the little celery and spinach plants I planted out a few weeks ago (and that seemed to be doing ok despite the weather) have survived. I’ve got holes all over the place. I’m very, very cross – this isn’t an occasional escape, this is a dog being allowed to wander freely and it is making regular visits.

Fencing: I’ve tried to block off my back garden with some old bits of fencing panel left by the previous owner.

Waiting: to find out if the fence worked. Unfortunately I got home too late to check whether it has been any use, and I also didn’t have enough time to try and fully inspect or repair the damage, so I may not know for a bit whether it is working.

Hoping: for enough fine weather on the weekend to replant my onions, uncover the cabbages, see if there is any chance of saving the other seedlings and repair any other damage that I may find when I take a closer look.

Eating: broccoli – frozen, but from my garden.


The rain held off… June 27, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 10:17 pm

Bitterly cold southerly and a horribly dull day, but it didn’t rain.

Eating: vegetable soup made from bought pumpkin, onion and leek (and bacon), plus my own celery, silverbeet and herbs.

Nibbling: self-sown salad greens – lettuce, rocket, chickweed and…

Tasting: the first miner’s lettuce for the year. This is my favourite salad green – I’ve now got it wild in my salad green bed, coming up amongst the parsley. Naturally it seems to germinate in the early winter and then disappear by mid-spring, but it is possible to get a longer season if you plant seed. I think it is mostly water so I don’t think it would be worth cooking, but it is a lovely mild, juicy leaf that I enjoy in salads, sandwiches and of course just munched straight from the garden.

Planting: blueberries. I mixed in coffee grounds, compost, peat and sheep manure pellets (plus the alumimium sulphate I added yesterday). Hopefully that should have the soil at a suitable acidity. I don’t much like using peat as I don’t think it is particularly sustainable, but it is the best for blueberries, so I use it for them. The last time I grew blueberries, I also used aluminium sulphate and peat in ordinary garden soil, and they were doing well 5-7 years after planting, without any additional help. Of course they were in beautiful alluvial soil on the Canterbury plains, not Wellington.

The blueberries are on a low terrace above my strawberries. Standing on the path below looking at the blueberry bed, I have Blue Dawn and Blue Magic (northern highbush) front left and front right, with Misty and O’Neal (southern highbush) back left and right. Theoretically, the northern highbush require more chilling as it comes from further north in the US, but the label says that it fruits well in warmer climates, so hopefully it’s ok.

Buying: one more southern highbush blueberry (Petite Blue) to pollinate Misty.

Also planting: seedlings, mainly brassicas (savoy cabbage, ordinary cabbage, cauliflower and a couple of silverbeet that came in the pack with the other seedlings). One of the local garden centres sells the seedlings that come wrapped in newspaper rather than in plastic punnets.

Experimenting: I’ve read that coffee grounds repel slugs and snails, so I planted two rows of savoy cabbage and spread coffee grounds around one row only.

Muttering: more evidence of digging in my garden, suggesting that the dog made a repeat visit in the last 24 hours.

Investigating: what apple trees are available in the shops. So far, most of the ones available are the same ones that are grown and sold commercially. That’s a bit of a shame, as most of those varieties are bred for characteristics that make them useful commercially. What they aren’t bred for is disease resistance, so they need a lot more spraying. They are hard work for a home gardener and really not suitable for an organic gardener (or a mostly organic gardener). I’m still hunting for more of the old-fashioned or modern disease resistant selections.


Why dogs and gardens don’t mix June 26, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 6:48 pm

Cursing: dogs, and dog owners who let their dogs roam on my property. I’ve been noticing some serious digging going on in my garden lately. I blamed my cat, who can be very persistent when he wants to be, but I was suprised by the amount of damage done to one of my mulched but unplanted beds last week. Today, there was a lot more digging, clearly beyond the ability of even the most deranged cat. The dead giveaway was the surprise left on my path. It was unburied and most definitely not cat sized.

Apologising: sorry Faust. It wasn’t you that dug up the garden. It was still you that squashed the poor little strawberry plant by sitting on top of it though, because I caught you doing it.

Burying: dog poo. I’m not impressed.

Reburying: newspaper and cardboard mulch

Replanting: some of my onions

Uncovering: the stepping stones through the vegetable garden, and some broccoli and spinach seedlings. I’m not sure if the spinach will survive.

Digging: more digging, this time removing the lawn layer where my blueberry bed will be. More giant earthworms, more clothes pegs. I’ve dug the holes for the blueberries, but I haven’t planted them yet, because I want to use some coffee grounds and I don’t get my next bucketful until tomorrow.

Sprinkling: aluminium sulphate, to acidify the soil for the blueberries.

Shopping: I found a Silverhill mandarin today. I’ve been looking for one – they are reported to be good in cooler climates. I also bought a couple of feijoas. One is “Unique”, the self-fertile variety that can fruit when it is reasonably small. The other is “Gemini”, also a smaller growing one which apparently has a strong flavour and lots of fruit. I’m thinking of getting one more – since I’ve got two fairly early varieties I’ll go for a later one, maybe “Wiki Tu” which has big fruit but a smaller plant.

Hoping: for a dog-free and fine day tomorrow so I can get my blueberries planted. And maybe make a start on the rather jungly corner where I plan to plant the feijoas and mandarin.


It’s sunny on the weekdays… June 24, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 10:41 pm

…but once again they are predicting rain for the weekend. So I took leave yesterday and enjoyed some sun.

Observing: the pattern of sun on my garden. I haven’t been home on a fine morning in months, so I did some midwinter observations.

The sun gets onto the back part of my garden, farthest from the house, at about 9.15. By 9.35 nearly half is in sun. By 10am about 3/4 is in sun. The reamining 1/4 isn’t in full sun until about 11 or 11.30. Unfortunately, there was a bit of cloud later so I didn’t get an observation of when and how I lose the sun, but I think I lose it between 3.45 and 4pm. Not bad for a Wellington property in winter.

Careful site observation is one of the things I learned from permaculture. It is just common sense really, but since when has common sense been common?

Eating: garlic, celery, parsley

Tidying: the mess on my deck. It looks a lot better now.

Tipping out: the old potted tomatoes and potting mix. I often save potting mix, adding compost and slow-release fertilizer, then reusing it. It seems to work fine, but the tomatoes were in potting mix that was on its third time around, and now I have the garden more set up, I don’t plan to do tubs of spring bulbs or lots of tomatoes on the deck next summer. So I won’t use quite so much potting mix.

Disturbing: a fairly large weta who had made her home under one of my pots. She looked like she was having a bad day, but seemed none the worse for it. She waved her legs around for a few minutes trying to be scary then quietly crept off into the parsley jungle.

Waiting: to see just how bad the weekend weather is, and whether there is any chance of getting any gardening done.


Hard work June 20, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 10:57 pm

Preparing: a permanent home for my asparagus

Unearthing: strange artifacts left by previous residents, mainly clothes pegs

Digging: I don’t like digging much. It is hard work and bad for the giant earthworms I keep digging, and sometimes accidentally cutting, up, so I normally try and use no-dig methods. In this case, I really needed to scrape off the layer of weedy lawn, because it would take a huge depth of sheet mulch to bury the weeds growing there. Then I dug down into the rather compacted soil in order to bury all the sheep pellets, blood and bone, and coffee grounds I was putting in to feed the asparagus.

Harvesting: compost. I used a couple of buckets of compost from my bin (good but a bit weedy) and a couple of buckets of worm casts from the bottom of my worm bin for the asparagus bed. Guess what – worms don’t eat avocado skins. But they crushed down ok.

Planting: I dug the asparagus out of the potting bag where it has spend the last 8 months and planted it. I added the old soil on top and then covered the patch with newspaper and cocoa husks. Hopefully the asparagus will be ok at getting through the newspaper, it will be very soft by the time it comes to sprout.

Flowering: some of my lovely little Oxalis species.  They are all in pots as most oxalis are too small to compete with the weeds and have delicate bulbs that are easily lost. A small minority of the genus are invasive, but most of them are wonderful bulbs that flower cheerfully in midwinter when most of the garden is quite dull. Ok, they aren’t edible, but they earn their place by making me smile.

Aching: hard work today, heaving digging and lifting piles of soil. And there is a lot more hard work to go…


Shivering June 19, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 6:07 pm

Today is not a gardening day, as much as I really want it to be. While I sit and wait for the fine weather, here is an inventory of what I have in the garden already.


Blackcurrant: possibly variety Magnus but I can’t remember. I had this in the ground a year and a half, but it spent last summer in an old potting mix bag on my deck, due to garden construction. In the first year I got a few fruit off it, enough to nibble and cook up with stewed apples. In the second year I got very little due to misreading the pruning instructions in a book.

Redcurrant: possibly variety Gloire de Versailles. I’ve had this two seasons – I has the same history as the blackcurrant. Nothing much in the first year, but got a bit more the next year. I ate all the fruit straight off the plant.

Gooseberry: unknown variety, but most likely Invicta as that is the most common. Given to me earlier this year, all it has done so far is lose its leaves.

Raspberry: variety Waiau. I’m excited about this one. I’ve had it two years and it seems to do well here. I planted one little plant in spring, and got a few fruit in summer. Then it put on lots of vigorous new growth, which surprised me by producing quite a few fruit in the autumn. Well, about one a day for a few weeks. For the first season I thought that was pretty good!

Last summer, it was in a pot on my deck and I got several berries a day for a few weeks. However I didn’t get anything in the autumn as it got a bit dry and had probably used up all the nutrients in the pot. Now it is back the ground, and I hope next year I will get more fruit from it.

A warning – the spot where I originally planted it and then dug it up from still has more raspberry plants coming up. Raspberries have fairly invasive roots so plant them where they won’t bother you, or anyone else, if they spread a bit.

Raspberry: variety Ivory. Been in the ground a few months, done nothing much so far.

Rhubarb: variety Victoria. This got smothered by weeds for the first couple of years and hasn’t done much. I just planted it out in it’s nice new bed with lots of compost, sheep manure pellets and thick mulch a couple of months ago and it’s looking very happy. Or rather I’m interpreting the fact that it is growing very well as happiness, which is silly really, but you know what I mean.

Passionfruit: Robinson’s black passionfruit and red banana passionfruit (Passiflora antioquiensis). Both in pots, I’ve had one fruit off each over 2 years and I really need to get them in the ground. I’ve got a spot in mind, and it didn’t even get frosted in the heaviest frosts I’ve had over 3 years so should be good for them.

Lemon: Meyer. Planted about January I think. Spent the summer being smothered by tomatoes and the autumn smothered by broccoli. Doing very well thank you. Not sure I’m recommend the “smothering” approach to citrus growing, but it seems to be working.

Mandarin: Miho. Planted at the same time as the lemon. The leaves seem rather pale and it doesn’t looking like it has done anything. Doesn’t look half as happy as the lemon despite apparently having a better spot. Clearly it hasn’t been smothered enough. It might get moved if it doesn’t pick up. I have a spot that I think might be more sheltered, certainly a little bit warmer, so perhaps that will help.

Strawberries: Chandler. Taste good and grow well. The best thing I have learned is that catnip is a great companion plant for strawberries. Or at least it is if you have two catnip-loving cats who spend all day by the catnip bush! The birds won’t go near the strawberries, or rather they won’t go near the cats who don’t even notice you have cunningly put them to work as strawberry guards.

I discovered this accidentally, when I went away for a couple of weeks and put the cats in the cattery. All my strawberries were eaten when I got back.

Strawberries: white alpine. Excellent little strawberry, with a delicious fruit with a far more complex and interesting flavour than the big red ones. Easily seed propagated (just take a fruit that ripened too much) and produces fruit for more than half of the year. I had one planted in a spot where I liked to sit and I would sit beside it, picking and eating the fruit straight from the plant. This has reminded me to make sure I locate some white strawberries in some nice spots for sitting in my new garden design.

I should add that I eat berries (and other things like beans, various greens etc) straight from the garden and never bother washing them, although if I’m offering them to visitors, I do. You know how it is, your own dirt always seems cleaner!

No time today to write about my vegetables. Another day.


Oops… June 13, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 6:32 pm

Buying: lots. Blueberries (4 plants, 2 southern highbush that should pollinate eachother and 2 that I’m not sure about but they seem to be two different varieties of the same species so they should pollinate eachother too). Raspberry, whitecurrant, lemongrass, strawberries.

My favourite garden centre had a sale today. I dropped by to see if their fruit trees arrived, not really intending to buy, but I couldn’t help it when I discovered things that I wanted on special.

Planting: strawberries (Chandler), potatoes (Jersey Benne), whitecurrant, raspberry (Ebony), spring bulbs.

I’ve grown Chandler strawberries here before, they seem to do well and taste good. They are meant to be more tolerant of wet than other varieties, so that’s why I picked them. The potatoes were not something that I intended to plant just now, but I discovered a few of them sprouting in the bottom of the cupboard. Ideally I would have planted them a bit later, but I’ll see how they do.

Spring bulbs are a bit late, I had a few left that I hadn’t got around to planting earlier. I’ve planted them around my berryfruit.

Scrounging: coffee by products. I got a sackful of coffee chaff to put in my compost, and I’ve asked someone at a cafe that I often visit to save coffee grounds for me. This time next week, I should have a bucketful of coffee grounds. I konw that they are good in compost, but I have also read that they repel slugs and snails. Worth a try anyway.

Listening: to the tui singing in my neighbour’s pear tree.

Preparing: the area where I plan to grow my tomatoes next year. I’ve buried green manure (mustard, lupin), blood and bone, and sheep pellets under a layer of mulch.

Mulching: old newspaper, cardboard, cocoa husks and the sack that the cocoa husks came in.

Hoping: that I get a bit of rain before the next strong wind, otherwise all my mulch will blow away.

Also hoping: to actually see the sun.


Fog June 12, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 10:10 pm

It’s been a week without wind. Unfortunately the wind died away with a big grey cloud over Wellington, so with no wind to blow it away, it has been damp, still and dull all week. I spent a couple of hours gardening in the drizzle, before giving up when the rain became too heavy.

Eating: lettuce, rocket, some sort of cress and chickweed. All self-sown. Not in large quantitities, but enough for a snack as I wander around the garden. Celery, silverbeet and broccoli, also stored garlic.

Worrying: The harvested garlic seems to have some sort of black mites on the bulbs. Not sure what they are – the obvious would be “garlic bulb mites” but these are apparently cream-coloured and mine are shiny black.

Planting: garlic, shallots, spinach, beetroot, celery, broccoli. Garlic and shallots I bought as bulbs, the rest are tiny seedlings that I grew from seed. I’m not sure how they will do at this time of year, but worth a try.

Buying: cabbage. I’m officially back to buying vegetables. I’m not going to have enough to keep me going for the next few months I think. I do still have several meals of broccoli in the freezer, but my celery is fairly small and my silverbeet is also limited. Possibly because it got buried by the tomato plants for most of the summer.

Mulching: cocoa husks. Yummy! My garden smells of chocolate.

Pulling out: old broccoli plants. Still got a few plants producing sprouts, but most of it has finished.

Considering: where can I scrounge some manure to bury under my asparagus bed?

Planning: I’ve kept myself supplied with vegetables, with some to give away, from January to mid-June. What do I need to do next year so that I’ll have more food in winter and spring?

I’m also starting to think about planting locations for next spring and summer, since I’m now putting in crops that will be in the ground 6 months or more. I have quite a large area assigned to the vegetable garden that is currently just weeds and green manure. I probably need to put the paths (just a few small paving slabs) through before I start doing anything else.

Fruit trees are starting to appear in the shops. I also want to put in more berry fruit. I need to create a blueberry area, I won’t put them with other things because I need to acidify the soil for them a little. There are a couple of places where they could go. There are feijoas in the shops right now and I have an area where I want to plant them, but it is a mess. And I still have my two unplanted grapevines.

I think that I have rather a lot of work to do over the next three months. No chance of getting the hazelnuts in this year though. I still have to build a fence and fix the edging on a deck before I can plant anything in the space I have allocated for them.


Frost! June 5, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 5:22 pm

Thursday morning was the hardest frost I have ever seen here, nothing like it over the previous two winters. The frost heralded three magnificently fine days, with one of them a Saturday, so I’ve actually done some gardening.

Eating: stored garlic

Harvesting: broccoli, silverbeet, celery (no change there)

Buying: pumpkin (I tried, but the seed I had had poor germination and didn’t ever do much)

Mulching: pea straw

Building: a low terrace from the main flat area of my garden to the slightly higher area

Salvaging: the bean seeds that I was hoping would get properly dried before the bad weather hit. They didn’t, but hopefully I’ve still got a few that will be ok.

Planting: onions (Pukekohe long keeper), strawberries (pajaro and white alpine)

I bought onion sets, something I’ve never grown before. I’ve grown red onions from seed, with limited success. I eat onions a lot and keep needing to buy them, so I thought I would have a go growing them.  The garden centre suggested that if planted now, I would harvest them around Christmas.

I also planted strawberry crowns (bought) and small plants of white alpine strawberry that I grew from seed from a plant that I bought. Most strawberries aren’t worth growing from seed, but white alpine doesn’t produce runners and I think that seed is the only way of propagating it.