Berry rennovation

I mentioned before that I was going to rebuild my strawberry beds .. and I have! Like so many jobs it turned out to take a lot less time than I had anticipated. With the strawberry roots taking up all the space in the holes in the bricks, the old plants could be pulled out in one go.

The plants are easy to pull out because there is a solid mat of roots
The plants are easy to pull out because there is a solid mat of roots

Per usual I took the plugs down to the chickens who spared no effort in ripping them apart for the snails, worms and slaters hiding in the soil. I collected what was left of the plants, sorting out useable runners from the diseased older plants. The diseased plants got thrown in the bin. There is no value in composting them as the diseased leaves could spread viruses around the garden.

Never stand between a chicken and it's food!
Never stand between a chicken and it’s food!

Once the plants were gone I mixed some leaf mould, rotted cow manure and potting mix to replace the old soil.

All cleared out and ready for the new soil.
All cleared out and ready for the new soil.

Then the fun part, replanting ready for the new season.

Ready, set grow!
Ready, set grow!

Only a few metres away it was clear that the raspberry plants were in similar need of re-potting. If you look closely you can just see the new seasons green shoots peeking through.

The raspberries are in a bad way.
The raspberries are in a bad way.

When we pulled the raspberries out of the container we realised that lots of the soil we had put in the container over the years had washed down below the false bottom in the container.

Out of the container.
Out of the container.

We decided to split the plant into two as all the space in the existing container was taken up. Luckily we have the other half of the container, a former heating oil tank, which we will also convert into a tub.

One of the unfortunate results of the re-potting was a lot of damage to the few canes which would have borne fruit this year. However, we think it will be better for the plants to develop new canes rather than worry about getting fruit.

Back in the tub and hoping for lots of new growth.
Back in the tub and hoping for lots of new growth.

 

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The Pardalote and the lawnmower

How cute is this little guy. He’s a Spotted Pardalote, one of our favourite visitors to the garden.

A male Spotted Pardalote in our garden
A male Spotted Pardalote in our garden

The reason he’s visiting is so he can set up his nest in our compost heap, something that has happened for the past few years. Unfortunately when we first spotted him several weeks ago he was attempting to dig his nest into the pile of rubbish that was sitting next to where the compost heap should have been. We were rather embarrassed that we hadn’t got his heap ready so we set to, to rectify the matter.

Deconstructed compost heap.
Deconstructed compost heap.

When I was a newly recruited veggie gardener I was told that the best tool you could have for composting was a lawnmower. Strange but true. However it was good advice. If you want to build a good compost heap quickly a mower will help you shred all sots of dead grass runners (we are currently over-run with couch grass in the garden beds) and leaves into useful sized pieces.

Part way through the proceedings with a good bit of work ahead.
Part way through the proceedings with a good bit of work ahead.

TB raked the pile over the ground while I attacked it with the mower. It took just over an hour to shred all the heap and build up the pile, along with leaves and some compost we had pulled out from one of our other compost bins (you can see them at the back of the photo above). In the end we had a much tidier garden and a decent potential nesting site for our paradolte friend.

Compost heap composed!
Compost heap composed!

It must have turned out to meet the specifications as today we saw several pardalotes flying in and out of the heap and a tell-tale pile of dirt has appeared outside the heap, indicating that they are excavating their nesting chamber.

Another view of our Spotted Pardalote (thanks to my new camera).
Another view of our Spotted Pardalote (thanks to my new camera).

If you want to see what a Spotted Pardalote’s nest looks like you can see it here.

 

 

 

 

 

All the signs …

Spring is nearly here, just under two weeks to go until the official start of the ‘growing’ season. The wattle is flowering, the chickens are laying more consistently (well at least two of them are), the days are getting longer and most incontrovertible of all, I have an overwhelming urge to go to the nursery and spend up big on any plant I see.

Newly bought seedlings and some early seed propagation in the polyhouse.
Newly bought seedlings and some early seed propagation in the polyhouse.

I’ve found it all so hard to resist. We gave in last week and bought a few punnets of plants, pak choy and lettuces, that will be able to survive in the current low temperatures and will survive the inevitable frosts. And yes, at the back, that is a tray of pea seeds that I planted in their traditional loo roll tubes, yesterday. By the time they are up they will be well able to cope with the outside temperatures. Parsley, at the front, was transplanted from tidying up in the front veggie garden. Most of these are destined for give-aways to friends and neighbours.

I am also trying to be a bit more logical in assessing what we have in the garden and what we need to source for the garden. A case in point are the strawberries. Our current crop are well past their use-by date as can be seen in the spotty, virus laden foliage. These have to be rooted out, quite literally and replaced.

Bad strawberry!
Bad strawberry!

I have some previous years runners in pots, but I still have to check whether they are clear of viruses. I did buy four new plants of the strawberry variety Hokowase, which originated in Japan and friend M says she will give me some of her runners. So once I wrestle with digging out the old plants, tossing them in the bin to avoid any further infection and replacing the soil in the brick niches I will be able to replant.

I’m working off, or perhaps working up, my spring gardening urges by reading gardening books and listening to gardening podcasts. Top of the reading list at the moment is A Year at Otter Farm, by Mark Diacono (Bloomsbury Press 2014).

A year at Otter farm, cover illustration by Andrew Lyons.
A year at Otter farm, cover illustration by Andrew Lyons.

Yes, I was sucked in by Andrew Lyons’ beautiful cover illustration, but equally so by the fact that Mark has a recipe for Jerusalem artichoke cake. Anyone who grows these yummy tubers will know that, like zucchinis, you can never have too many recipes for using them all up! This book ticks all my boxes. It’s seasonal, the recipes are sorted by main ingredient and the recipes are sensibly listed on the page where the vegetable is discussed. Such an obvious idea and yet I think this is the first time I’ve seen it in use. Mark is also growing some of the less common veggies and it’s great to get his growing tips and learn from his experience. While Mark is living in the UK it is easy enough to follow the seasons through the book by simply ignoring the month listed at the chapter heading.

I’m also going overseas for my favourite podcast over at You Grow Girl. Gayla Trail’s blog (Gayla is based in Toronto, Canada) was one of the first gardening blogs I found all those years ago. I must say that I had not been catching up with it recently so I was pleasantly surprised when I dropped by the other day to see that she is now podcasting. Her podcasts go under the title of What’cha Growin. I like what she is doing – I’ve listened to four podcats so far – Gayla has some really interesting guests. Some are experienced, others raw beginners from both rural and really urban gardens – have you ever had a gunshot victim laid in your garden while waiting for the ambulance? I’ve been really disciplined starting from her first podcast, but I’m building up to episode 7, when she interviews Alys Fowler, one of the UK’s leading veggie garden promoters.

Bring spring on, I’m ready!

 

 

 

Teepee power

You may recall the craze for ‘pyramid power’ when sane human beings were asked to believe that any living thing put under a pyramid, such as a piece of fruit, would keep fresh longer, or those people who meditated under such a structure would achieve some earthly nirvana. Worryingly it appears that our chickens have fallen under a similar belief.

Yes for the last few weeks the girls have been spending large parts of their day under the teepee (which almost sort of looks like a pyramid), just outside their pen.

Under the influence of teepee power!
Under the influence of teepee power!

Of course their excuse is that it’s the perfect place for dust-bathing in the late afternoon sun.

Happiness is a chook covered in dirt!
Happiness is a chook covered in dirt!

Of course since adopting this habit one of our chooks has started laying again … and the eggs being laid are a bit bigger than last year’s. Mmmm,  perhaps there’s something to those teepees after all.

Gutted and bent out of shape

Winter is the time of year when the pruning takes over. This year there has been some major work, focused on our Japanese Maple and our apple trees.

Our Japanese Maple had taken a major hacking last year when the electricity lines were checked and we received a notice to cut both it and some of our other trees back. As the work was carried out by contractors it was a matter of just cutting back rather than carefully pruning our trees.

Grey Currawong in the unpruned Japanese Maple
Grey Currawong in the unpruned Japanese Maple

I thought it was definitely time to ‘tidy’ the tree up. I feel my efforts may lack the subtlety of a Japanese gardener. Yes,  I gutted the centre of the tree and tried to remove any branches growing vertically. I just hope that when the leaves re-shoot in spring the horizontal effect will be emphasised.

 

Gutted, or pruning with extreme prejudice.
Gutted, or pruning with extreme prejudice.

In the interim I hope you are being distracted by the cyclamen’s which have now been planted at the base of the tree.

Meanwhile in the chook pen TB was training our apple trees. You see we didn’t quite factor in a chook pen when we first planted the apple trees along the back fence. Now TB has run the trellising wires through the pen so that the two trees in the pen and those outside the pen can be trained into espaliers. It looks very stark as present, but again we hope it will be much improved when spring comes.

espaliered apple inside the chook pen.
espaliered apple inside the chook pen.