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!
A culinary match made in heaven – butternut and feta and sage. Add in the nutty taste of burnt butter, and throw in some pasta, and you have a meal on your hands that would make any Italian Nonna proud!You can use any culinary sage…
Your past does not equal your future
A new year, and a new set of goals, or at least, let's be honest, a new (re)start on an old set of goals! And you know what, that's okay - I've realized that it is never too late to start, or at least, start again. Without getting too philosophical, this (right now) is not where your story ends, but where it starts. Each day. I saw the image on the left on Pinterest yesterday, and it kind of stuck to me, and I'd like to use it as an inspo for the week... month... year... decade. YOUR PAST DOES NOT EQUAL YOUR FUTURE.
The plan for now
So what's up in my garden? So glad you asked. In my thought garden lots of ideas have sprouted, one of them is to blog more regularly. On here. About my garden, my herbs, my homesteading goals, my life toward self-sufficiency. Always working on my goal to get more and more people inspired to not only grow their own food and medicine, but to use it too! Won't you follow me on this journey? Great!
I'll start with this kind of thing - a week in retrospect. I'll try to blog each Monday about the past week - noting special things happening - the good and the bad - in the garden for the season, what I made from my garden food-, medicine-, cosmetic-, or craft wise. And share whatever little things and big things I learned that week - in the garden, and in life in general.
Did you like the monthly newsletters I did? Well, they'll go ahead too. But I'll blog the bits all separately too in the first week of the month, so you can find them easily if you aren't subscribed. A gardening to do list for the month, including a PDF lunar calendar, a featured article (which may be a focus on a herb, an ailment, an idea), a herb of the month, a vegetable of the month, a flower of the month... Sounds good? Yeah! Oh... and of course, recipes galore.
Week in Retrospect
And now for this week's Retrospect, or what's up in my physical garden:
Weather and Water
It's hot, and it has been a while since it rained. Luckily the last deluge filled our tank, so we're not in dire straits for water yet, but it's not the water that's a problem in the garden this season - it's the heat, or lack of consistently warm temperatures, actually. Yeah, I know it's getting toasty out there in the middle of the day, and the UV is skyrocketing, but evenings still get cool... cold even if there's a wind coming in from the south. I'm pretty sure that the long cool spring and only-now-warming-up summer has seriously affected the growing and ripening of my summer fruiting vegetable crops.
Tomato, Zucchini and Cucumber
Honestly, I had baskets full last year of tomatoes, zucchini and cucumber by January (actually started picking mid December according to my photologs), and now only am I finding tomatoes ripening one by one, a few zucchini still tagging along, and ONE cucumber forming... Oh well! It's always a bit of fun playing with an opponent, or collaborator if you will, that's as fickle as Weather!
Complaining done! I'm happy to report that although they seem to be late, there's a great abundance of fruit forming on all the plants. And at least I have no mildew (yet), or signs of any other weird fungal or bacterial disease on any of my summer vegetable crops.
The garlic on the other hand finally got covered in rust, after having a really wonderful growing season. I put my bulbs in pots in May, and they have done exceptionally great - much better than they ever did in the ground or even my raised beds! So, I think I'll give the pot thing (or at least trough thing) a go again next year. Sure, I did end up with the dreaded rust fungus, but only much later in the growing cycle when most bulbs were already fully formed, so by the time I decided that I'm not winning the spray-free war on rust spores, and yanked the garlic all out, they had really nicely formed heads. Most of them.
Another rust (different strain) attacked my hollyhocks too. But they're seemingly not too bothered and are blooming delightfully. It's difficult to try and take a perfect picture though of their flowers without a rust-marred leaf getting in the way...
I'm especially happy with my latest hollyhock acquisition - Creme de Cassis. She's stunning! Can't wait to save seed and start a whole row of this colour.
Unfortunately my other new one, Peaches And Dreams, has not yet flowered, and shows now sign of a flower spike forming, but it may just be a bit late. But as hollyhocks are classed as a biennial, and I did start this one from seed, it just may be that she'll be a dame to the ball of summer next. Always something to look forward to!
And I had been looking forward to this lady flowering for a long time! Originally got sent a cutting of pink flowering meadowsweet, also known as Queen of the Prairie (Filipendula rubra) around 2015, and while she performed spectacularly in my friends' garden (whom I split the cuttings with) even that first year, has only now come into her rights in my garden. And very excitedly I spy what seems to be my true meadowsweet, also known as Queen of the Meadow (Filipendula ulmaria) making a flowering head! This is wonderful to me, as it is the namesake of my business - MeadowSweet Herbs & Flowers.
MeadowSweet (a bit of history and a herbology lesson)
A name that took me and my friend (who started my business with me in 2015) a long time to get to agree on! She wanted something flowery (she loves her flowers), and I wanted something herby (ahem... of course! How do you know me?). We finally settled on MeadowSweet because a meadow is full of flowers (friend is happy), and of course, meadowsweet is an exceptional herb too (me happy).
As a matter of fact, meadowsweet is a great example of how modern medicines are often derived from plants - you see meadowsweet has an analgesic compound called salycilic acid (salycites are found in willow bark and some other herbs too), which has been extracted and eventually synthesised to form modern day aspirin. Aspirin is even named after the plant that led to it's development - derived from the name of the chemical ASA—Acetylspirsäure in German, and spirsäure (salicylic acid) was named for the meadowsweet plant, Spirea ulmaria (meadowsweet's Latin botanical name back then), from which it could be derived.
Also a wonderful way for me to always introduce my love of whole plant medicine... but we'll leave that tidbit for another day.
In flower/fruit in the garden
Other flower and fruit powers that I got to enjoy this past week, even if their healing effect was only in lifting my mood, in my garden include all of these beauties:
Bringing it home
You know by now that I'm obsessed with useful plants, and if I profess to inspire you to use your plants in your home, I better be doing the same, right!? So here's what I made from my garden this week (and a few from over the holidays):
1. Blueberry & Lemon Basil Smoothie
2. Chive and Parsley Scrambled Quail Eggs
3. Herb Jellies (Thyme Jelly, Mixed Herb Jelly, Chilli Jelly)
4. Butternut and Feta Ravioli with Burnt Butter and Crispy Sage
5. Summer Vegetable & Herb Rose Tart with Thyme-Semolina Crust