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)
A word about water and weather
What did I say last week about it not being hot? Was I out of my mind?! Goodness me, this past week had some scorching temperatures (I'm Auckland based)... and no rain to speak of...
So how do you water when it's hot?
I prefer to do :
1) a good soak, a few seconds on each plant,
2) early in the morning,
3) close to the soil,
4) every other day.
Make sure your water perculates the soil and goes down deep, rather than running off. This deep watering less often is better than more regular shallow sprinkles because you encourage the roots of the plant to grow deeper, not "hang about" on the top layers of soil where they can quickly dry out and burn in the heat of the day. Earlier in the day is better simply because less evaporation takes place. And closer to the soil is said to be better too, although I've heard it another way too - apparently an arc of spray picks up positive ions in the air ...but this warrants much more research. There's a school of thought that reckons water drops on leaves act as a magnifying glass in sunlight and can end up burning your leaves - but the science is still out on this one too with a few places confirming, and others refuting it. I've never had drops on leaves be a problem, so don't think it is that big an issue in any case, but you can make up your own mind on it.
Remember that plants in pots need much more regular watering, so if you are container growing, you're going to be out there with a watering can almost every day....perhaps twice a day!
There's lots to harvest it the food garden at the moment - I'm going out each day and coming in with a basket full of heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers (and gherkins), beans, carrots, silverbeet, spring onions, and herbs (parsley, chives, thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage...etc). The sweet and hot peppers are all starting to form fruit too - just look at these beauties:
It's not just the produce I harvest this time of year, but also the seeds. I'm an avid seed saver, and seed collector. There is just an added bit of pride come next growing season when you whip out your packet of seed and see that it was from your own garden... it closes the cycle up so beautifully! And there's the added benefit of some of the location specific growing conditions of the plants in your garden being "encoded" in the genes of the seeds, so the more you grow from your own stock, the better adaptable the plants should be to your garden's environment. Just don't forget to bring in some new seed every now and then for genetic diversity too! Better yet, share with a friend in the same geographical area, or with similar micro climates.
I've done quite a few articles on different ways to save seed in previous blog posts, so just do a search for "seed saving" on the website and you'll find a good few examples. But to get yous tarted, here's a quick image on how to save wet seeds, like tomato seeds:
Sowing and Growing in January
It's all good and well that we are in the middle of the most productive season in the garden, but what can you plant now to make sure you have some more to harvest before, or for, winter? Perfect timing to propagate and plant now, as we have just passed New Moon (6 Jan), and according to the Lunar Calendar, the 10-11 days following New Moon is the best time to sow, make cuttings, and plant above-ground crops.
January is a good time to:
- Fast growing leaf vegetables and herbs like lettuce, mustard greens, coriander and rocket
- The first of your winter vegetables such as kohlrabi, cabbage and Brussels's sprouts. Sow silver-beet, beetroot and spinach as well as parsnips, peas and other cold-tolerant vegetables.
- Flowers, including violas, primulas, poppies and sunflowers.
Click here for a detailed sowing guide for January.
- Seedlings of summer vegetables that will still grow and develop quickly for another crop before winter sets in, e.g. zucchini, eggplant, tomato (especially cold season tomatoes such as Subarctic Plenty, Russian Red and Tobolsk), capsicum and chillies.
- Calendula, alyssum, dahlia, bergamot, and coneflower (Echinacea)
- Spring flowering bulbs like Anemone and Ranunculus
- Seed Potatoes for an autumn harvest
A bit more on Chillies
I'm a bit of a chilli-head, okay, a lot of a chilli-head, and am growing a lovely selection of over 40 varieties of capsicum. Growing and using chillies, is still one of my most requested talk topics, and no wonder, as worldwide, the interest in these hot little numbers have surged. Some stores in Britain claim sales of chilli related products have tripled the past three years, and many new international websites offer specialist selections of chilli plants and seeds for the growing numbers of the chilli-obsessed. Not to mention the selections available at garden centers in our own backyards too. Since I moved to NZ 6 years ago, each year saw the named varieties nearly double at my local plant shops.
This is a selection of my chilli harvest from last year:
In flower and fruit
A few things that caught my attention in the garden this past week:
This week I got to make:
- An heirloom tomato tart with basil-semolina crust and garlic infused balsamic reduction (tomatoes, basil, garlic from the garden)
- Liquorice Tea
- Roast Purple Maori Potatoes with Garlic and Rosemary (all veg and herbs from the garden)
- Dill Sauce (fresh Dill from the garden)
- Strawberry jam with balsamic vinegar and black pepper (from strawberry farm picking)
This week I learnt:
I have no constraint when it comes to harvesting or picking - I ended up with 8.5kg of strawberries from the Pick-Your-Own strawberry farm!
Bee stings under your little toe really hurts - more than any other bee sting I've ever had!