Belladonna Bess

An edible garden in Wellington, NZ

First strawberry October 31, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 10:07 pm

Two days of gardening in one post, I couldn’t be bothered writing yesterday, and I haven’t done that much.

Eating: my first strawberry of the season. I had eaten some shop strawberries earlier in the day, which only highlighted just how good my one tasted fresh from the plant.

Also eating: peas (just a few from plants that sprouted in the pea straw), silverbeet, radishes, various salad greens including lettuce, miner’s lettuce and puha.

Sharing: salad greens and radishes.

Flowering: my vicarious rose (Francois Juranville), anemones (in my berry garden).

Germinating: some beans are germinating and looking ok, just a couple though.

Improving: a lot of my seedlings are looking better after a week in the greenhouse.

Heading: I’m seeing the first sign of a head on one of the broccoli from the patch that was feeding me in April, and my cabbages. The cabbages looked rather nice with the dew on them this morning, so I’ve put a photo below.

Weeding: around the pear tree. I was trying to get some seeds going there, so of course it grew lots of weeds. I did get a few Calendula and Nemophila seedlings though.

Observing: a few of my mustard plants had pustules of some white fungus on the underside of the leaves – looks like Albugo candida, brassica white rust. Curses – this is something that is really bad for native cresses and my Lepidium oleraceum is doing so well. Still, it is nowhere near the infected mustard, in a much drier and windier spot.

Constructing: a netting cage over my blueberries and the strawberries below them (more attempts to keep the blackbirds out), plus a couple of mini-windbreaks for the passionfruit and one of my nectarines that isn’t looking so great. Not sure what is the matter with it, I would say something with the roots, as the leaves look a bit wilty but it has no shortage of water. It isn’t anywhere near waterlogged though, that particular spot does drain well.

Attending: I spent most of yesterday at a workshop on soil micro-organisms and related topics like making compost “teas”. Some of it was very interesting and I’m going to try out a few things and see how they go.

Scrounging: visited friends today and scrounged various things from their farm, including rotted horse manure, wood ash (or gorse ash I think), water (non-chlorinated water to experiment with compost teas) and plastic bottles.

Cabbage and morning dew


Cages October 25, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 9:39 pm

I did garden yesterday but was too tired to write anything about it.

Finishing: the fruit cage for the berry garden.fruit cage

Mulching: under the berry bushes. The blackbirds made an awful mess, and I think I’ve lost some of my bulbs. Now it’s all caged in, so hopefully they won’t get back in there.

Weeding: the berry garden was surprisingly free of weeds, I pulled out a few things like the odd bit of couch grass. I weeded around various other spots as well.

And today…

Harvesting: the last bits of celery and silverbeet from the plants that had bolted, also miner’s lettuce from a few plants that I pulled out because they were taking over the salad greens bed.

Weeding: cleaning up the salad green bed and the bed where the silverbeet was.

Eating: silverbeet, celery, radish, beetroot (a couple of the winter planted plants survived the blackbirds), miner’s lettuce and other salad greens.

Planting: pearl drop onions in the spot where the silverbeet was. I haven’t grown onions before really, but I noticed that that was the one vegetable I felt like I needed to buy if I didn’t have any, so now I’m growing lots, including Pukekohe long keeper, red spring onion, pearl drop and shallot.

Sowing: parsnip. No sign that the last lot I planted came up – the seed might have been a bit old. The spot where I planted them has now been taken over by potatoes. So I sowed a new row beside the yams.

Caging: a couple of lots of strawberries. I’m not sure how easily the bumblebees will get through the net to pollinate, so I’ve only done some of them and will see if they continue setting fruit. I also gave them some compost and remulched, since the blackbirds had ripped up all the mulch around them.

Flowering: Lepidium oleraceum. It’s doing really well in the garden by my letterbox. Lots of flowers on the raspberries and the bumblebees are on them a lot.

raspberries in bud


Battling the blackbirds October 23, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 9:55 pm

Lovely fine day – barely any wind and sunny most of the day. As a result, I spent rather more time just sitting on the deck in the sun than I should have done.

Caging: my berry garden. I stapled bird netting to the fence then draped it over some stakes, although I bought the wrong size stakes, so I will need to go back and get a few of the next size down.

Observing: the bird net gives the bumblebees a bit of trouble – they usually have to take a few tries to figure out how to get through it – but they still manage to get in and out to my raspberry flowers.

Planting: tomatoes (cherry red, sub-Arctic plenty – bought seedlings), Russian red (my own seedling), capsicum (bought seedlings, I’ve never had much success growing them from seed). I hoped that my own seedlings would be ready by now, but I’ve lost half of them to bad weather and snails.

Constructing: a windbreak for the tomatoes, which should also serve the dual purpose of stopping the blackbirds digging them up.

Buying: a cheap mini-greenhouse. I wanted to get something decent that would last, rather than junk that would only last a couple of seasons and then would be rubbish. But I got sick of my seedlings being destroyed by the wind. Now I have a little 4-shelf greenhouse with a plastic cover, tied very firmly to the deck.Geranium phaeum

Germinating: I have four asparagus seedlings. Finally. They are so tiny they are almost impossible to see. I hope this means that the snails can’t find them either.

Weeding: I pulled out some very large buttercups and erodiums. The asparagus bed needs to be remulched to slow down the weeds, but I need to wait until the seedlings are bigger.

Mixing: coffee grounds, chicken manure, cocoa husks, comfrey and random food scraps in my compost bin.  I should have some more ready in a few weeks, but the lot I put in the bin today won’t be any use for a few months.

Eating: celery, radishes, miner’s lettuce and the last of the silverbeet. Fortunatly my next lot of silverbeet will be ready very soon.

Not far off: broad beans, and a couple of peas that germinated out of the pea straw. Some of the strawberries are also nearly at full size.


What’s wrong with spring? October 17, 2009

Filed under: Environment — belladonnabess @ 6:21 pm

Freezing southerly again. Apart from trying to support some of my battered seedlings, I couldn’t be bothered doing anything much in the wet (4cm since yesterday evening) and cold. I did uncover a few plants that the blackbirds had buried, but that’s it.

Instead of writing about what I didn’t do in my garden, I though that I would do a bit of an audit on some of the good and bad things I’m doing for, or to, the environment. I’ve been trying quite hard for the last year or so, so it is useful for me to document some of the things I have done, and also document that things that I’m doing worst at, in the hope that it motivates my to do better.

Good – I take the bus to work, and don’t live too far away (10-15 minutes if traffic isn’t heavy).

Bad – I still drive everywhere in the weekend and in the evening. Given the quality of the after hours and weekend bus service where I live, I don’t feel like I have much option. My car is probably about average for fuel efficiency, but it could be better.

Good – my diet is probably a lot lower impact than most. I don’t eat too much in the way of processed food, grow lots of my own vegetables and my most frequent shopping trip is to a farmer’s market (bad – it’s 15 km away). I go to a supermarket about once a month to buy things like toilet paper, cat food, flour, butter and cleaning products.

Good – I use a lot of low toxicity cleaning products like baking soda.

Bad – I love my dishwasher. I’m sure that the detergent I use is horribly toxic and that it uses more energy than washing dishes by hand.

Good – my garden is currently providing well over half of my vegetable needs, and that is a lot because I really do eat 5+ a day. It is largely organic and provides habitat for lots of insects including the native praying mantis, bumble bees, various wasp and fly species, and stick insects, which are very cute but do tend to eat my raspberries. The garden also provides some fruit for me and next autumn should provide a reasonably proportion of my carbohydrates (it won’t be anywhere near 50% though). It provides almost none of my protein and, because it is a very small garden, it never will unless I start eating snails.

Bad – I eat meat and/ or dairy products most days. These are far more resource intensive than vegetables. But…

Good – the actual volume of meat and dairy products I consume is probably only 20% of what it was a year ago. Also, I used to waste a lot of milk, because the supermarkets stopped selling the type I wanted to buy in volumes less than a litre. Not any more, since I buy powdered milk, making up only what I need.

Good – I create very little landfill and recycling rubbish. Mostly I achieve this by not buying stuff with excess packaging, even if it is recyclable (recycling is a poor substitute for not creating the rubbish in the first place). I’ve had the same supermarket bag as a bin liner in the bin in my kitchen for about a month. I wash and reuse many of the plastic bags that I can’t seem to avoid. I think I think I’ve got my food waste volume below 10% (it has been shamefully bad in the past) and all except meat waste is taken care of by composting and worms. I think that I put out a council rubbish bag and my recycling bin some time in the last couple of months, but I don’t remember when. I won’t be putting them out again any time soon.

Even better – I take some rubbish that other people would send to the landfill or recycling and give it another life: I take 15-20 litres a week of coffee grounds from a cafe in town and use it in the garden and the compost bin; I scrounge cardboard and old newspaper from work and other random places to use in the garden; if I need plastic supermarket bags to use as bin liners etc, I scrounge them off anyone who has excess; I use old plastic milk bottles from work to make up powdered milk.

Note quite so good – I hoard, including some stuff that I really should throw away. If I’m not sure what to do with it, I just leave it lying around until I get thoroughly sick of it, when it becomes quite likely that I will toss it in a landfill in frustration.

Really so bad that it’s embarrasing – did I mention that most of my good work as outlined above is cancelled out by daily 20 minute showers? At Scott Base, I managed to have my showers under the requisite 3 minutes, so I know it can be done. I’m steeling myself to add “showers under 10 minutes” to the New Years resolution list. Even that seems daunting though.

This is only a partial list, there are plenty of other good, and bad, things that I’m doing. I’ll do another list sometime, if I get around to it…


A very wet garden October 16, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 9:37 pm

Raining: I’m not sure how much rain there has been over the last week, because my rain gauge only takes 5 cm and then it just overflows. I managed to get a bit done in a brief fine period.

Eating: salad greens (mainly miner’s lettuce, but various other greens too), celery, silverbeet, radishes.

I’m not a great radish fan, but I had some seed and they’re quick, so I planted them with my parsnips, between rows of potatoes. No sign of the parsnips, but I’ve had a few radishes now. They’re ok as long as I eat them with something else.

Planting: chervil, capsicum and chili (bought plants), spaghetti squash, Fardenlosa bean (seed-grown by me).

Composting: I got some compost out of my bin for the new planting, and I did a bit of moving stuff around in the bin.

Mowing: my small remaining “lawn”, with hand shears.

Weeding: the root vegetable bed. Bare ground is so much worse for weeds than mulched ares, but now the plants in that bed are getting bigger, I’ve spread a bit of compost over the top.

Buying: bird netting. I need to net my berries soon.

Raining, again: I put my seedlings outside as at least it wasn’t windy.  It was ok for a bit and then it poured (1cm in about an hour). Then it stopped and I hoped that was it for a while. Since I’ve got a plague of snails, I sprinkled diatomaceous earth around everything, but the rain washes it away. Now it’s pouring again, and I’ll probably have no seedlings left by morning. Sigh. I hoped to be planting out some of my seedlings by now, but the last few weeks have been hard on them.


From winter to summer October 10, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 9:40 pm

After the miserable southerly gales, this morning was sunny and windless, and I was in the garden in shorts and t-shirt again. Later though, a cold and very strong westerly turned up.

Sweeping: the southerly storms left the driveway covered in pine needles from the shelterbelt. A strong northlerly usually blows them away again, and they probably end up blocking stormwater drains somewhere. I decided that I could do with a layer of pine needle mulch for my blueberries and my path. I got 6 or 7 big tubs for just over an hour of hard sweeping.

Uncovering: the pavers in my vege garden. They were covered with mulch by the excavating blackbirds. Also uncovering various plants they have buried.

Netting: clearly my garden doesn’t have enough mesh down to stop the blackbirds, so I put some more in. I’m also thinking about putting net over the berries soon, and wondering about the best way to attach it.

Sowing: beans – I’ve planted most of the beans I plan to plant. A few more fardenlosa (the previous lot aren’t up, I don’t think they would have liked the cold), unknown giant variety (I saw it in a NZ gardener recently but forgot what it was called, I got it a few years ago in a mix from Koanga and have been saving it since then) and Dalmatian beans.

Flowering: Geranium phaeum, comfrey. There are lots of flowers on my Marcy raspberry.

Observing: plenty of insect life in the garden, including a tiny praying mantis, looked like it was just hatched. I don’t see many of them, but they are definitely around. There was an egg case on one of the fences I painted in Janaury, so it must have been laid this year.


Second winter October 9, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 9:50 pm

Freezing: last week’s southerly storm kept blowing cold and wet until Wednesday. On Friday, the next one arrived. I’ve done almost no gardening, everything is sodden, the plants are barely growing they’ve had such a shock with the cold, and the only thing that’s going full speed ahead is the blackbirds excavating every bit of dirt not covered by protective mesh.

Planting: a couple of seedlings, mostly giveaways, that I got at the home and garden show – spinach, borage and lettuce.

Eating: celery, silverbeet, spring onion, various herbs, rhubarb (I only had a little bit from my plant, but I also got some from the market and I cooked both lots up together with with some honey. I’d forgotten how nice it is).

Setting: I’ve seen a couple of tiny pods forming on my broad beans, so here’s hoping I’ll have some soon. I won’t run out of silverbeet either – the stuff I’ve had over the winter is bolting now but the new seedlings I planted at the start of September are looking fairly good and I should be able to start picking a few leaves soon.


Where did spring go? October 3, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 9:22 pm

I can’t believe how cold it is today. It certainly wasn’t worth planting any more bean seeds or starting to harden off seedlings outside. Intermittent hail didn’t encourage me to be outside either.

Transplanting: tomatoes, celery, basil. It was the only gardening job I could do inside.

Sowing: more black cherry tomatoes. I don’t think the seed is very good, I had a couple of seedlings start and then die, but very few compared to the other varieties.


Nasty northerly October 2, 2009

Filed under: Garden — belladonnabess @ 10:25 pm

Abu HassanI’m an all-weather gardener usually, but I only managed a couple of hours in the gale force northwesterly winds that battered Wellington today.

Planting: zucchini seedlings (bought ones). Not a quick process when you have to work around the mesh I use to thwart blackbirds. Arisaema candidissimum (in front of whitecurrant), A. flavum (in front of yellow raspberry), A. tortuosum (in front of blackcurrant).

Sowing: Chiogga beetroot. I only have seedlings across part of the row I sowed early, so I’m pretending that all along I planned to do successive sowings to get a longer season.

Germinating: crown pumpkin (in pumpkin pile), Zephyr zucchini, spaghetti squash and cucumber – no sign from the horned melons yet. One Dalmatian bean and one Fardenlosa bean, sweet peas, Ladybug tomatoes, black violas, not much sign from black cherry though, no sign of the asparagus yet. Scarlet runner beans in the garden are up.

Miniature windbreaksFlowering: boysenberry, Marcy raspberry, Kees Nelis tulip, Abu Hassan tulip. I still have new daffodils opening. Cerinthe major is just starting to flower by my letterbox. All the currants are now flowering.

Setting: signs of a couple of tiny beans on my broad beans, not much though. I did see a bumblebee working very hard on them the other day.

Constructing: little individual windbreaks for my zucchini seedlings.

Contemplating: hoses and hose reels. I’m going to need to water a lot this summer, despite my mulching. This will be the worst year for it, with all the newly planted trees.

Eating: celery, lots of miner’s lettuce and smaller quantities of other salad greens.

Kees Nelis showing the effects of the nor'wester