THIS WEEK'S FEATURE ARTICLES
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DECEMBER / JANUARY
One day summer will be here. But for now, it is windy and cold and damp; conditions not great for our summer vegetables. If you were lulled by the arrival of summer in October, and planted out your tomatoes, they may not grow well. If tomatoes get a setback, they sometimes do not ever recover. In Cygnet, it is best, in my opinion, to keep potting up everything until late November or even early December, then plant out, according to the weather. We need to use all our senses to connect with what is happening around us and to respond to nature with
Contrary to what you may think, warmth in the soil comes from the microbes. The sun (when it shines) warms the top few millimetres which then cools again overnight and with rain and cold wind. Meanwhile, a well-mulched and humus-rich soil will be warm down through the soil, where the plant roots live. In fact, the ripening of tomatoes can be better attributed to the activity of the microbes in a truly healthy soil, than to warm air temperature. Our health stems from a healthy gut in the same way that plant health stems from a healthy soil.
A cold wind and days of showers are bad for tomatoes, especially if the soil is bare and cold. To protect from the wind I surround the whole bed with walls of lace curtains from the tip shop. Lace curtains are a much-under-utilised resource as they are also fabulous over any small or creeping plants, like cucumbers, to provide shelter but still let the light through. I use wire crates, often discarded from freezers, which I get from the tip shops. One edge of a lace curtain can be tucked under one side of a crate and a row of crates holds up the curtains from touching the plants, then the far edge can be tucked under the last crate. I also cut up curtains and just use a piece over one crate. Wire crates on their own keep birds off lettuce etc. I put a brick on top too, if possums or wallabies are around.
Plant out into the damp soil
Sow and plant cucumbers, zucchinis, corn, sunflowers, salad greens, herbs, flowers and everything you can get your hands on. After rain is the best time to get plants going. Even though the soil is still damp, always water your seedlings in. Why? Because every tiny root hair needs to be in contact with the soil to work its magic and extract nutrients from the soil. Watering in is the only way to ensure
Garlic does not like to be wet once its bulbs are maturing. Now it may be verging on being saturated (depending on where you live) at the worst possible time. I pulled some of my early garlic last week when the strong wind also contributed to it falling over. Luckily it was ok. Now I am going to check my mid-season and late-season garlics by digging up a couple. If you see any signs of the stem going floppy or if your soil is clay (and therefore waterlogged and devoid of oxygen) dig them immediately and lay out in a tin shed to thoroughly dry off. For good storage, garlic needs to be firm and dry. They may be smaller than full term garlic but at least they will not be soggy.
Once you have harvested your garlic, plant out with other lime-lovers such as broccoli, and be sure to plant amongst some camouflage like marigolds and leeks and add an aphid repellant too, like nasturtiums.
If, like me, you sowed beans and watered them in only a day or two before rain, the bean seeds may rot before they germinate. If the seedlings have not emerged soon, dig in with your finger and have a look so you can re-sow quickly, while the soil is deliciously damp, if need be. Now is the perfect time to sow beans, after rain. Do not water until they emerge.
Our ‘Crop Swap Cygnet and Surrounds’ group is starting a seed library. The first project we are undertaking is sowing into punnets all the dozens of varieties of bean seeds I have, then distributing to people to grow and save some fresh seeds. To get involved, check out our Facebook page.
Unpredictable and tricky until you find what works, basil is loved by everyone. Here is what I have discovered works for me. I sow seed in trays in December, only the large leaf varieties such as Genovese and Lettuce Leaf which grow fast in our climate and have fabulous flavour. The seeds take a while to germinate so be patient, keep the soil damp but not wet. Once germinated, water with a weak seaweed solution until they are big enough to transplant. I put several plants into each 20cm pot with a rich potting mix and keep them in my little green house, as they hate the cold. I like to have six pots, some sown in early December, and some later. They don’t mind a bit of shade as long as it is nice and warm. If you live somewhere consistently warmer than Cygnet they may be fine outside. Don’t overwater and do pick regularly.
Books and online reading for summer gardeners
Root to Stem: A seasonal guide to natural recipes and remedies for everyday life by Alex Laird – a beautiful and excellent book to cherish or give for Christmas.
Look up online: “Seasons of the Monastic Table”, a beautiful, free compilation of recipes and thoughts about eating simple, delicious, nutritious, seasonal food. This is very suitable for the Tasmanian climate.
Beans, zucchini, cucumbers, basil, carrots, celery, lettuce, leeks, parsley, sunflowers, radish, parsnip, pumpkin, chicory. Sow winter veg too.
Corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkin, other veg seedlings, potatoes, potted herbs, flowers etc.
Keep in greenhouse in good sized pots with rich soil and water well but allow to drain well before watering again.
Fill in spaces with flowers, comfrey, daisies and herbs.
Lots of winter veg benefit from early summer sowing so they reach a good size to plant out in autumn: fennel, Brussel sprouts, red cabbage, leeks, kale, beetroot.
Dec / Jan
• Mulch vegetable garden well, preferably with old hay or old silage.
• Mulch fruit trees well, preferably with bark chips
• Feed food garden with seaweed solution for pest resistance and fish
emulsion or homemade worm brews.
• Harvest and enjoy!
Whenever it is possible, families like to get together for Christmas, so this is a great time to record the memories of the older members whilst they are still around.
Imagine what we would have missed if Margarita Blyth (1878-1952) had not listened to her father, William Henry (Harry b 1843) as he reminisced about his early childhood in India. (A very long interesting piece which I have had to shorten).
His mother died suddenly, so the servants took the three little white children, Harry, Eva and Herbert, in a bullock cart for the long journey of hundreds of miles to their father in Agra – for there were no trains in those days.
They travelled by night and rested in the coolest spot they could find in the daytime. The journey was not without incident, for one night baby Herbert awakened and, playing about in the half light of the cart, tumbled out of the back of it and was not missed for some time. There was great consternation when they found him gone and they turned the cart and went back on their tracks – the wheel marks being well defined in the sand as they were crossing a desert at the time. They had to go some distance before they found him and there he was, in the bright moonlight, sitting on the sand playing happily with stones.
Harry Blyth told how he went to a boy’s school in Agra and next to it, with a high wall separating the two, was a ‘girls school’. A young master in the boys school named Sam was in love with a girl pupil in the girls school, Henrietta Hodges. Her father was tutor to a young Indian Prince, the Prince of Kaputala, and he too had seen Henrietta and had fallen in love with her. So later, when the Indian Mutiny broke out, the young Prince said to Henrietta that if she married him, he and his followers would help the British (and incidentally her father, who had returned to his regiment) but if she wouldn’t marry him then he would join the mutineers. So, Henrietta married him and became the Princess of Kaputala and helped the English.
Henrietta had married him on the understanding that she was to be the only wife, but as time went on and she had no sons, only two daughters, his people murmured and wished him to take another wife. So, Henrietta left his palace and, taking her two daughters with her, she went to live in England.
One of Harry’s happiest memories in India was of a visit he and his sisters and brother paid to, that wonderful ‘dream in marble’ as it is so often called, the Taj Mahal. He often described the wonderful lace-like screens in carved marble around the tombs, and in the walls of the temple, the inlaid flowers of precious stones and the fairy-like domes and minarets of the temple. They saw it by day and also by night in the brilliant moonlight, when it looked ethereal, and one of their friends, a girl with a lovely voice, sang a beautiful song beneath the dome, and her voice rose higher and higher and filled the dome and sounded like the voice of an angel. It was music one could never forget.
Harry Blyth completed his education in England, his father then arranged to take him on a trip to New Zealand, of which he had heard great things. They received a kindly welcome from Mr and Mrs William Gilbert Puckey and his family, and here it was that my father and mother met for the first time.
There is so much more about life in India at the time of the Mutiny and again in New Zealand in the mid to late 1800s. Personal stories which would have been lost if Margarita had not written them down.
So, as you meet up with older members of the family this holiday season don’t let the precious memories be lost. Get them whilst they can still recall them. Record them on your phone and write them up later but get them down somehow. I guarantee that in years to come you will never regret it.
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