Here we go again... lockdown living begins once more.
After a three day pause to normality we are now in two weeks of Level 3 restrictions. And it may be even longer, right? Whatever happens at the end of August, right now there are kids at home, people working from home, and so many people suddenly out of work needing to save money - possibly by growing their own food.
Something we all have in common is the need for fresh air and exercise, right?
Confession: I'm a total homebody, and I love getting my exercise in the garden. In my little bubble of three, the autumn lockdown was a challenge with three adults in a tiny little house, so having the garden as an extra space allowed us to avoid a bit of the cabin fever effect. Even now, I take myself off down the very back of the garden with a journal and a cup of tea just to get away from the phone, computer and Wifi and enjoy the sound of birds and a sense of tranquility.
Is there a spot in your garden that could become a spot to go and just sit in nature?
What's different with lockdown this time around?
I remember back in March/April looking at the panic buying of seedlings and imagining the challenges of new gardeners maintaining their brand new vegetable gardens through the winter months. Sure we had fabulous weather through autumn and a fairly mild winter, but all the same I think there are some brand new gardeners heading into their second growing season now with a bit of confusion about what makes supermarket vegetables so big and perfect looking.
Some may be wondering if gardening is even worth the effort...
To that beginner gardener I want to say this: please try one more season.
Spring is a MUCH better time to begin a garden just in terms of the variety of food and flowers you can start growing. Beans, Tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, salad greens, basil, coriander, sunflowers... the list seems endless, and things grow so much faster. If you can keep up with the watering, then you can literally see progress on a daily basis.
If you were a tad disappointed with what your garden produced over winter, please have another go. I've got a few starting points listed below.
Tips for the beginner gardener: Soil, Water, Plants
We are not quite in spring, so even though the weather is warming up, it's NOT yet time to go crazy planting everything that's on offer at the garden centre. Most avid gardeners are first getting excited with seed orders, but then wait for the right time to actually plant them.
How's your soil looking? If you are an organic gardener avoiding all chemical fertilisers, then you do need to pay attention to how your plants are growing, and consider adding a good amount of compost at least once a year. Can you start making more compost? I'm noticing more and more people cancelling their garden waste collections: both to save money and to start using the resource that is green waste to enhance their garden in a more circular way.
Some people swear by bokashi for bringing life into their garden beds, others use compost teas or biodynamic preparations. I'm using in ground worm farms in my container gardens as a means of creating a self-fertilising ecosystem, which has the added bonus of transforming food waste into worm castings. A new method I'm still just learning about is using plants themselves to feed the soil - apparently the right blend and density of edible crops will continuously build up the vitality of your soil. It feels like people in the regenerative farming movement are slowly unraveling 100 years of misinformation from the scientific community about how to grow healthy food.
My approach to working with the soil is from a biodynamic perspective, and while I don't have the soil science degree to communicate the exact processes, I can feel by how my garden responds that this is the right way for me to be working.
I'm predicting a bit of a stressful summer ahead for gardeners wanting to water by hose, and I recommend to my clients to investigate some form of rain water harvesting right now, while we are getting a bit of rain. Every drop will help, and if you are renting or otherwise unable to install a sophisticated system, then putting all your buckets out on a rainy day is better than nothing. I'm going to set up a tarpaulin on my washing line to feed the water into an old rubbish bin, just to see how that works. My advice is to just plant as much as you are able to water in summer.
There are a few other water saving tips for your summer garden that would be good to build right now - hugelkultur is one of them, which I describe a little here.
What to plant in Auckland in August
I'm a seed sower, so my timeline is a little different to gardeners who purchase ready grown seedlings. I was really impressed the last time I was in Bunnings, and saw a sign on their tomato seedlings saying 'Greenhouse only' - if you are ever hesitant about what to buy, then please find the people responsible for caring for the plants in store. Everyone I've ever met who works in garden centres wants you to succeed - I really do believe that.
Here's my seed sowing list for the next few weeks. I sow my seeds in the ascending moon phase - for August we are looking at the two weeks from the 16th to the 29th:
Peas, carrots & beetroot (directly into the garden), potatoes, broccoli & cauliflower, kohlrabi, dill, coriander, lettuce & other salad greens like endive, rocket, mesclun mix, Asian greens (bok choy, mizuna, pak choy, misome, tatsoi)
The list of flowers is a little longer:
All the marigolds of various colours, sweet peas, cosmos, aquilegia, cornflower, hollyhocks, zinnias, foxgloves, poppies, and all my summer/autumn bulbs: dahlias, lilies and gladioli. It feels really weird planting summer flowering bulbs when the freesias are not quite in flower, but it's so easy to forget if you don't get onto it before the busy time begins.
Beneficial Weeds & Herbs to grow all year round
I recently created a handy list of what I call companion plants that I like to see growing all year round in my clients' gardens. Things like dandelions, clover and yarrow are every bit as important to me as lettuce, basil and beans. Send an email if you'd like me to send you this pdf file to use as your own checklist: firstname.lastname@example.org
What I'm not planting yet - it is still winter, right?
I'm not planting the following, even though the temptation is to get in early and prove I can win against nature... perhaps next year, with a greenhouse I'll try some early tomatoes under cover, but for now these seeds are in my 'not yet' storage boxes: tomatoes, basil, corn, chilli peppers, capsicum, pumpkin, eggplant, cucumbers, courgettes, beans, sunflowers, nasturtiums, shiso, mitsuba, edamame. watermelon.
It's funny looking at this list and realising I need to make sure I save enough space for all of this.
Do you feel like you'd like to grow absolutely everything? A handy resource to work through this is the Blue Borage Foodscaping course, which helps you plan out what you love to eat, what space you have to grow in, and what you want your garden to look like. Take a look here.