This time of year is about gardening for us, even with our smaller garden. We start our gardening year in March and all through the cold months we grow winter crops. But when spring arrives we add more manure and compost to the soil and start on our tomatoes, chillies, herbs, capsicums, lettuce, cucumbers and green leaves. These crops are the exciting ones because they all have a big flavour punch and they look good in the garden. If we get it right, instead of paying high prices for watery tomatoes, cucumbers and chillies, we have our own organic heirloom varieties that with one taste yell: "This is why we grow our own food."
Hanno added a shade tunnel over the green leafy vegetables a couple of weeks ago. It's a simple structure made with four short star pegs, flexible black plastic pipe, shade cloth, a timber brace and hooks to attach the shade cloth to the pipe. The tunnel takes about 30 minutes to erect and depending on how long your star pegs are, you can bend over or stand straight to weed or harvest in the tunnel. We've found it particularly handy during the early hot days when the plants haven't yet developed their tolerance to the hotter sun which burns tender salad leaves, tomatoes and capsicums. It's also a good defence against summer storms and wind. It won't prevent vegetables going to seed in the hot weather but with mulching and prudent watering, it will get you through a harsh summer better than you would without it.
You can unhook the shade cloth if you need the height to weed or harvest. The timber brace just stops the centre of the shade cloth from sagging.
We're growing a French tomato, Rouge de Marmande, and an Oxheart. Both are heirloom varieties and both have few seeds. The French girl is great in salads and sandwiches and the Oxheart is for relish, cooking and sandwiches. I sowed tomato seeds a few weeks ago and planted out the seedlings this week. I like to pot the seedlings on from the small cells they start in and allow them to grow so by the time I plant them, they've almost outgrown their pot and have started to flower. We always grow an organic garden and use the minimal amount of additions. Instead of using commercial fertiliser, I make comfrey tea which is full of the nutrients most vegetables and fruit need. When we planted the tomatoes, I picked some comfrey, chopped it up and we placed a large hand-full of chopped leaves in each planting hole. As the days go by, those leaves will decompose and release their nutrients to the plants. I also gave each plant a drink of seeweed concentrate and liquid comfrey after they were planted.
A bunch of comfrey was cut into small pieces and bruised so it would decompose faster, and then added to the tomato growing holes.
It's important to run a frugal garden just as it is to run a frugal home. When you plan out your garden, take into account all the water you'll use, the fertilisers you'll add as well as the cost of mulch and anything else you'll buy for your garden. When you do up your garden budget, you may find it's just not cost effective. So, what do you do if that happens? Decide whether the joy of gardening out-weighs the cost of the harvest and proceed accordingly. We have tanks here that hold 15,000 litres of rainwater and we never use tap water on the garden. We make our own compost and most of our fertilisers. We buy organic sugar cane mulch, sulphate of potash, seaweed concentrate and Dipel (a biological stomach poison for caterpillars that is organic and non-toxic). We buy some seedlings and seeds when we need them but if we can save seeds, we do that instead. Our shade structure was made using recycled materials we already had here. It's quite easy to save money in the garden so look around and work out what you can give a second life to, learn how to save and sow seeds and how to propagate. Those small things will save you money.
It's been a productive time in the garden but I still take my time out there watching, sniffing, touching and enjoying what's around me. It gives me a good feeling to produce some of the food we eat, knowing it is as healthy and fresh as it can be. A garden will give you much more than vegetables, herbs and fruit if you let it. It gives a sense of peace and of connecting with the natural world, a place to think and a quiet haven from a noisy world. And when you create your garden make sure you have a few seats there to encourage lingering.