October! October! A truly beautiful month. With spring truly sprung, there’s birds chirping, bees buzzing, lambs jumping through dandelion fields, and flowers – including fruit blossoms – popping up everywhere. The growth in my garden has suddenly accelerated in the past week, enough even for…
Last weekend I was down and out with a head cold, and just did not feel up to doing the weekly retrospect. But actually, although it’s spring, it feels kind of slow-going, so not even much news this past week. Nevertheless, here we go…
Hello & Welcome to Week 3
Three weeks into spring, and things are going well. Albeit a bit slower than I’d like – not the plants’ or weather’s fault… but just life and budgets coming in to play. If you didn’t know, I’m working to create my new homestead garden and farmyard to a near non-existent budget – it’s under a hundred dollars every few weeks, so not much play. And this past pay cycle saw us having to fix the car’s clutch ($1500!!!), so bye-bye went my garden spending money for a couple of months. Which means I could not get the load of soil I need to finish off the three-sisters garden, or get the insect netting for the brassica garden (see problems below), or the replacement plastic sheeting for the greenhouse.
But I still got a lot of things done, never a dull moment! And although it’s frustrating to have the whole garden set up take longer than I originally wanted, I am still most grateful to have this opportunity to live out my dream of working toward self-sufficiency, and won’t complain too loudly!
That said – I’d be most appreciative on leads on talks or workshops I can give in the Canterbury region… and I’ve got some more seeds to sell… and I always have extra plants and seedlings too from my homestead in Waikuku.
Weather & Climate
Did we have a wind this week! And just after we visited the Christchurch museum last Saturday with their fascinating display on the winds of Canterbury – notably the Nor’wester.
My friend who lives in Amberley said it was the strongest the wind blew the whole of this past year (they moved from Auckland in July 2018), and was quite surprised at the strength of it. It definitely rivaled the blasts we got in Whangaparaoa – the wind surely knows how to blow across the peninsula!
None of my plants suffered damage, although my friend said some of her new plum blossoms got blown off. The beautiful new arch entryway that Rick built me did get blown over – but now is secured with steel stakes and other big strong struts. I also had to dash to tie down the little plastic greenhouse I have – visions of scattered seeds and seedlings and soil everywhere from past experiences hurrying me on to strap her down despite getting my hands scratched in a thousand places by the lemon tree in the way! What we won’t do for our plant babies!
The rest of the weather has been pretty typical of what I expect for spring – some frost, some rain, some really hot sunny days.
Looking Good in the Garden
The birds are starting to be a problem in the newly dug gardens – they are enthusiastically looking for worms and other tidbits, but seem to not care for the plant carnage they leave – having me replant discarded seedlings strewn about at the end of every day. The ideal solution would be the butterfly netting which I should get up soon – yes, I’ve seen my first white cabbage butterfly already!
Planted, Sowed, Grown
I managed to transplant, or pot up, the first 21 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. They’ll stay in these bigger bags for a while longer before I contemplate planting out – everyone around here warns to not plant into the garden outside until at least after show weekend in early November, so I think I’ll heed their advice.
The potager got a row of kohl-rabi and bok choy, and I planted a whole lot of companion flowers, edible flowers and meadow flowers about in the garden too, I planted:
- Dianthus – Rainbow Loveliness
- Honeywort Pride of Gibraltar
Not plants, or plant medicine of food form plants, but a bit of meteorological information:
The Nor’wester, like similar winds in the rest of the world (Foehn in Switzerland, Chinook in Canada, Santa Anna in California, and Berg Wind from my birth country, South Africa), is a positively charged warm and dry wind which makes people irritable, can be a cause of migraines, and in some countries is even recognized by the law as driving people temporarily insane.
A nearly self-sufficient meal... pikelets for brunch made with quail eggs from my aviary, edible flowers and basil from my garden, and hazelnuts from my friend's farm. Next year, the milk and the berry coulis should be coming from my homestead too! Working forward slowly but surely!
Full steam ahead with my garden diary / inspiration blog. If you’ve missed the beginning, feel free to check out the Introduction, and last week’s first edition – Week 1. It was propagation week this past week according to the Lunar Planting Calendar, so I…
The first week of spring just shouts of new beginnings, doesn’t it! So, of course it was the perfect time for me to get on a roll again with my blog. So, a warm welcome to the first new issue of “Week in Retrospect”, a…
Back in Season!
Minette’s “Week in Retrospect” is back in season!
This weekly blog post will mostly be a way for me to keep track of what is happening in my garden, my herbarium and my homestead, a diary to look back on, and learn from. But it will also be a way for me to continue my mission, which is to excite and inspire others to grow and use plants for food and medicine.
…and I promise they’re not all as long as this one… just got to do some introductions and explanations up front!
Each week’s entry will be about what happened in my horticulture-homestead-herbology ventures for that past week. I’ll include things like the Weather & Climate, plants that were Looking Good in the Garden that week, what I got up to Sowing & Growing, and as far as possible, because there is always something new to know, even to seasoned gardeners, I’ll include Something I Learned. I will also be brave, because not everything in the garden is sunshine and roses, and add Challenges and Failures I face in the garden, and then, on a positive note again, sign off with (all-importantly to me) How I Used My Produce for that week.
Hope it sounds good and that you enjoy the ride!
A bit of background for those who don’t yet know me. And for those who are unaware of where I am in my journey:
My name is Minette Tonoli, and I am an earth mother and herb enthusiast striving to become more and more self-sufficient on my new acre homestead. I love to grow plants, and use them in all aspects of my daily life. I’ve been gardening for many years, and as most of us did, learned my love of gardening and the natural world at the feet of my parents.
My “official” gardening journey though starts Long Ago (2005) and Far Away (Johannesburg, South Africa), when I quit my office job as a computer applications development manager and immersed myself wholly in my then-hobby of growing herbs. I even made a little business from it.
We immigrated to Auckland, New Zealand in 2013, and I continued my herbaliciousness by growing herb plants for farmer’s markets, and engaging in talks for various garden clubs, and running a few workshops from my rental home.
This year, 2019, saw us buy our own first NZ home (yay!!!), and not just an urban dwelling, but that which my little heart has desired since childhood – an acre homestead! We moved in May, and all of the gardening I’ll be doing is “from scratch”. Well, except for a few pretty spring bulbs in all their glory right now, and some hedging flowering plants on the property boundaries. I am super excited to finally create my forever garden here in Waikuku, just outside Rangiora in the North Canterbury region of the South Island of beautiful NZ.
I love nature, I love plants. I try to live a slow and simple life, where I tread as lightly as I can on this, our Mother Earth, while making each of my footsteps count for a healthy environment for future generations.
Before I start my blog posts, I’d like to also introduce you to the actual gardens. That way you’ll know what I mean when I refer to “The Croquet Lawn”, or “The Apothecary” etc.
The Rose Cottage Garden: Hugging the house when we moved in was a “beard” of grasses. I don’t have anything against grasses, and happily moved these to another plot, but I really envisioned the space against the house more welcoming in a typical English cottage garden style. So, in went some roses, hollyhocks, foxgloves, dahlias, dianthus and many other flowering plants. While most of this seems like an aesthetic garden only, I will be harvesting food and medicine from here too!
The Potager: The main vegetable garden. The source of food for our family. This used to be the back lawn of the house. I’m a firm believer of “Grow food not lawns” though, so I am reworking that whole 400sqm (give or take a few) into a French potager style garden where vegetables are grown with flowers and fruit and herbs. It’s going to be sort of a structured chaos when done. A lot of companion planting, a lot of intercropping, a lot of diversity. And a flower meadow “river” running through it to bring more life and beauty and pollinators.
The Orchard: A part of the back paddock, also about 400sqm, has been earmarked for my permaculture fruit forest orchard. It’s not a food forest, and it’s not a traditional production orchard either, but in my mind, a perfect marriage of Stefan Sobkowiak’s Permaculture Orchard and Tom Spellman’s Backyard Orchard Culture, tempered with a whole lot of Minette Tonoli wants it that way. Experimental. But full of hope. Let’s see how it grows! Here I’ll be mainly growing fruit trees but there’ll also be a lot of herbs, flowers, and even some vegetables.
The Quick-Access Herb Garden: Our main entry to the house is sided by two built planter boxes. They were full of stinging nettle and portulaca when we arrived. I cleared them and planted some common use culinary herbs – especially for my husband – who needs to know whatever he picks in that garden is edible and useful in cooking. I’ve got basics in that garden like rosemary, sage, thyme, lemon thyme, oregano, marjoram, chives, parsley, rocket, winter savory and French tarragon.
The Apothecary: I love herbs, and I have herbs growing everywhere – in the cottage garden, potager and orchard, but of course I also have to have a dedicated herb garden. Because there is so much to do this first season on our new property – and not everything gardening related! – I’m not sure I’ll actually get to starting this apothecary garden this year, but I’m starting to grow plants from seed for it. Maybe they stay in pots for a while, maybe I find a temporary home for them, but ultimately they’ll have a home in the massive walk-through herb garden. I dream of it being filled to overflowing with common and uncommon plants, herbs I can use for food, medicine, cosmetics, in the household and for crafts. Did I mention I love herbs?
There’s more… but it’s mostly established ornamental trees (The Flowering Cherry Grove) and flowering hedges (The Croquet Lawn) – filled plants that I’m only getting to know now. And I enjoy them, and appreciate them for their beauty and the homes they offer to wildlife, but they won’t feature much in my self-sufficiency gardening retrospect blog, except perhaps where I note their blooms as something particularly lovely, so they deserve a mention here too.
Weather & Climate
Christchurch weather has been something to get used to. Especially after spending 6 years in warm temperate to sub-tropical Auckland. But I see it as a change to celebrate. Firstly, because I had many days in the Whangaparaoa peninsula that I wished for a good bit of frost to kill of pests and diseases which can run rampant in the Auckland climate. A good frost really does a wonderful job of wiping the slate clean.
And secondly, because it brings back childhood memories, nostalgic moments of walking on frosty grass early in the morning, or dashing out to frost-cover my dad’s prized mountain aloe in the middle of the night because we forgot to do it earlier. The Free State winters of my youth were quite similar to the one I just experienced in Canterbury. And the Free State was also flat, similarly to the flat North Canterbury plains. The climate and the topography lending itself to melding my happy childhood with my happy adulthood.
For sure there is going to be trials and tribulations as I navigate this new climate and environment with my edibles and medicinals, but it’s a challenge I look forward to, and in the end I hope to bring about an abundant harvest for my family.
On we go then! Tune back soon for Week in Retrospect 1 (31 Aug – 6 Sept).
After settling in my new homestead just outside Christchurch (separate blog entries on this journey to come soon!), I finally had some time sorting through my seed stash and can offer some flower, herb and a lot of tomato and chilli seed varieties for sale.…
I was invited by Jocelyn from Grow Eat Heal to an event last night, where I got to speak about my passion – herbs, and not only how to use them for food and medicine, but importantly, how to grow them in such a way…
Crazy Tomato Lady
It's all about tomatoes this time of year! I'm in my element gathering every day from my different tomato plants - eager for each new cultivar to ripen so that I can enjoy it's shape, colour and of course, taste test. So far my most prolific tomato is Jaune Flamme, and the tastiest would be Purple Cherokee.
After last season with lots of different delicious varieties gracing my harvest basket, I decided, being on a small space, that I should really actually only plant my top 10 producing plants this year, but at least 2 or 3 plants of each. It sounded like a good plan at the time, very sensible. But that was of course, before winter, when the eagerness to grow starts to gnaw at the soul, and seed catalogs arrive in the post, and seed swaps with gardening friends start... and let's just say that that all my good intentions flew out of the window and I am again growing over 60 cultivars of tomatoes - almost all of them heirlooms.
That may sound a lot (and it is for the general vegetable gardener), but it still is but a drop in the selection of seeds I had to choose from (over 200!) Am I tomato crazy? Certifiably so! But I love it...
In case you don't know - I rent. In suburbia. A small section, of which I am only allowed to garden "a bit", so containing the farm in my head is sometimes a really big challenge. How I fit 60 tomatoes? Well, some are in a bit of garden I created a year ago (16 cherry tomatoes), another 16 are in 4 raised beds (4 tomatoes per garden... which is a bit overcrowded I admit), a lot are in 26l and 42l flexitubs (20) and 4 in 9l buckets (the dwarf and dwarf cherry ones), and I've got 4 in hanging baskets too. I also sneakily put around 8 more in the flower garden among the roses and herbs.
Interested in the cultivars I grow?
Here's a quick low-down:
- Sunrise bumblebee
- Black Cherry
- White Cherry
- Orange bourgoin
- Yellow Pear
- Red Pear
- Helsing Junction Blues
- Doctors' Frosted Green
- Green Grape
- Green Vernissage
- Aunt Amy's Apricot Cherry
- Black Striped Cherry
- Black Prince
- Black from Tula
- Paul Robeson
- Black Roma
- Japanese Black Trifele
- Black Pear
- Indigo Rose
- Purple Russian
- Purple Cherokee
- Black Krim
- Black Zebra
- Tiny Tim
- Big Zebra
- Violet Jasper
- Peaches and Cream
- Oaxacan Jewel
- Indigo Fireball
- San Marzano
- Giant Polish Paste
- Alma Paste
- Pik's Yugo
- Tigerella/Red Zebra
- Watermelon Beefsteak
- Thai Pink Egg
- Tlacalouca Pink
- Isle of Capris
- Pink Brandywine
- German Red Strawberry
- Costoluto Fiorentino
- Berkeley Tie-Dye Pink
- Boxcar Willie
- Orange Russian
- Lava Flow
- Mr Stripey
- Casady's Folly
- Dr Whyche's Yellow
- Orange Beefsteak
- Jaune Flamme
- Aunt Gertie's Gold
- Green Giant
- Green Sausage
- Lime Green Salad
- Green Zebra
- Green Envy
It's not all sunshine and roses in the garden though, and I'm finding that my companion planting efforts and my no-spray philosophy is not helping much to keep the pests away this year.
No disease though! Yay! Last year this time I had terrible looking tomatoes and very mildew-ridden zucchini and cucumbers. Perhaps my efforts in creating airflow has helped a lot! And planting on trenches of Bokashi (someone once told me they never had powdery mildew after planting on Bokashi, so I had to try it!). That and feeding the plants plenty (Seasol and Compost Tea every week).
But the bugs...the bugs...the bugs! Mainly it's Passion vine hoppers (on my cucumbers, grapes, and yes, passion fruit) and lots of green stink bugs all over my tomatoes!
How do I deal with them? Mostly I do a bit of pick-off-and-squish. Or a very hard jet of water to spray them off. I've also done a go-round the garden with my aphid-away spray (garlic + onion + cayenne + soapy water). These all seem to bring a relief, but not for long. I guess I should have been a bit more vigilant with dealing to the little baby stinkbugs (they look like large black ladybugs) - they were easy to spot on my calendula plants, which I grew specifically to be able to destroy a whole "nursery" of stinkbugs...
Other things you can try to battle the bugs:
- DE (Diatomaceous Earth)
- Plant mint and catnip around susceptible plants.
- Neem Oil
But as I am fond of saying - if nothing is eating your plants, they are probably not worth eating!
The Good Guys
And at least there are still a lot of good bugs around too!
How to encourage bees and butterflies to the garden? It's very easy - plant a diverse garden with lots of nectar and pollen rich plants. Herbs that you allow to go to flower are powerful magnets for bees, like rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, sage, basil and chives. Borage, phacelia, clover, and honeywort can be specifically planted to attract honeybees and bumblebees to the garden. Bees and bumblebees also love open-faced dahlias and roses, hollyhocks, sunflowers, scabiosa (pincushion) and flowering medicinal herbs such as anise hyssop, marshmallow, echinacea, cardoon, bee balm, and catnip. There's a load of other flowers to attract pollinators to the garden.
It's also important to *not spray* in the garden. And if you really MUST, then use only organic, natural and animal-safe sprays - preferably something you concoct at home. Spray in the evening when the bees have stopped foraging. But only if you really, really have to...
Flowering and Fruiting
This week's eye-catchers:
Homemade from the Garden
This past week I got to make:
- Corn Fritters with Tomato Salsa (The fritters were loaded with thyme, chives and parsley from the garden and the tomato salsa had cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden)
- Baked Sea Bass with Fennel and Salsa Verde (Fennel, and the salsa verde had lots of chives and parsley)
- Classic Heirloom Tomato Sauce (Tomatoes, garlic and herbs from the garden)
- Tomato and Zucchini Soup (Tomato and Zucchini from the garden)