26 March 2013

Living in the outernet

Here is Hanno bent over planting seeds and seedlings in the late afternoon sun.

Not only is March the best time of year for me with the weather, it's also when we see the re-emergence of our beautiful vegetable and herb garden. We're both looking forward to a good growing season this year and hope to have an abundance of fresh organic food to eat and share. We are committed soil gardeners, we don't like no-dig gardening. We look after our soil, dig it over and it produces vegetables that contain minerals from the earth as well as all the vitamins we need. The heavy work of weeding, turning over and soil enrichment happens here at the beginning of every growing season, and Hanno breaks that hard work up into smaller chunks that he can manage. Many of the vegetables are thriving already and some are big enough to pick.

Hanno planted 36 Glen Large garlic cloves yesterday - they're suited to warmer climates, so hopefully they'll do well here. Last year's garlic crop rotted away in the rain. He's also planted bok choi, sugarloaf cabbage, cauliflower, beans, tomatoes, lots of curly kale, pickling onions, shallots, leaks, beetroot. lettuce, silverbeet (chard) and zucchinis.  There's still a lot to go in but this is a very good start. Next step - root vegetable seeds. We have carrots, turnips, radishes and daikon to be sown.

I have a selection of flowers too. I've planted sweet peas in a big pot and have Queen Anne's Lace to attract bees and other beneficial insects to the garden and at some point through the season, I'll probably add calendulas, alyssum and maybe some borage, if I can find some seeds. We already have a number of culinary herbs growing - parsley, sage, basil, thyme and lemon basil and of course, the ever present chilli bush is still producing more than enough medium-hot chillies. We have three ginger sprouts to plant too.

In the foreground, on the left, is the bench we sit on under our elder tree. Finally, after those five weeks of rain, the ground has dried out a bit and the elder is flowering.

This patch of lettuce, bok choi, silverbeet and cucumbers was planted on 14 February. You can read that post here.   Almost six weeks later, most of it is ready for the table.

This is Giuseppe, the guardian of the garden when no one is around. He is the recycled top of a Villaroy and Boch jar. My friend Kathleen was going to throw him out because he had a chip in his hat. As we all know, I have no requirement for perfection and therefore Giuseppe sits in our garden, with his hands full of carrots, watching when we can't.

This year we decided to let strawberries grow as under-storey plants around the vegetables. Hanno put the container next to the garden, the runners are self-rooting in the garden and when they do, he snips them off.

 The dark, bare area in this first garden is our garlic patch.

Hanno will be making comfrey fertiliser soon so we won't have to buy nitrogen fertiliser for the green leafy vegies. We'll probably put some on the compost too as comfrey will accelerate the decomposition there. It's a very helpful and versatile herb. If you can get some root cuttings, grab them and plant them close to your compost heap. A lot of people think comfrey runs like bamboo. It doesn't, but you have to be sure of where you plant it. If you dig it out, even the slightest piece of root will allow it to regrow in that spot.

There is no doubt about it. Having a garden to spend time in and being able to grow food and keep chickens helps me find balance in my life, especially when I'm busy writing and out working. It's even more important then. Walking out there into the fresh cool air makes me relax and I know that right here, right now is all I care about.  Life here is simple and apart from our clothes, the scene in our backyard on almost any day resembles scenes from hundreds of years past. We are just two people providing for ourselves. And sitting there under the elder tree - and I think everyone over 60 should have an elder tree - I'm calm, thoughtful and slow. There isn't much I want in life but I would like to put in a request to stay here, tending vegies and collecting eggs until I drop. I know I'll go out with a smile on my face. This is the outernet at its best.



  1. How full your garden looks Rhonda, Melbourne weather isnt as kind over the cooler months, but I have just put in cos lettuce beetroot and kale xxBrenda

  2. Your garden looks wonderful and I can't wait for ours to produce again. Sadly, we've had cooler than normal temps so far and I haven't even been able to plant. Oh well, all in good time and I guess that is what gardening teaches us. Can't rush mother nature...

  3. I love seeing your garden and hearing about what you're growing! Thanks for sharing.

  4. And here I was thinking that it is March. Time really does fly in a garden :)

  5. g'day
    what a beautiful garden you have, always something going on in it, it looks so relaxing too
    mine is slowly coming along, have to get in & make new beds & hope to purchase new heirloom seeds soon
    thanx for sharing
    hope you have a wonderful day rhonda & hanno!

    selina from kilkivan qld

  6. Your garden looks so good - I'm looking forward to getting mine back into the ground this year. Our start date for gardens - flowers and vegetables - is usually Queen Victoria's birthday in late May (in Ontario, Canada).

  7. This is a lovely post Rhonda.

    I love the simplicity of growing food too, and we are getting some new hens and will have eggs. We are having quite an extended winter. Itching to get the snow gone and warm days to come! We are growing lettuce, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, onions, peppers, peas, beans, corn this year.


  8. Dear Rhonda,

    This is my first post here, although I've been following your wonderful blog for over a year now. Your posts just ring so true with me, about so many things. When you spoke about wanting to stay at your home, tending the vegies till you 'drop', I was reminded of my own wonderful grandma, who did just that. She had a huge garden, did all her own preserving, sewing and mending, and was gardening literally till the day she left us at 87 years old. And she too had a garden bench under a big old tree in the yard, where she used to sit, knitting.

    Anyway, I love your blog, and just wanted to thank you for all your inspiration, Rhonda. And I'm glad to hear your foot is on the mend - take it a bit easy if you can for a while, and look after yourself.


    1. Hello Di, thanks for giving me the chance to say hello to you. I often wonder about the people reading and not commenting. I understand it but I also like to know who is out there. Thanks too for sharing your story about your grandma. That is exactly what I intend doing.

  9. Thanks for the new pictures of the garden. It is time here for the summer garden here. We are cutting back production a bit this year as we don't need to can or dry much as we have plenty back. This will allow us to redo some areas and get other areas ready for new plantings of perennials. With age things are slower going and this more relaxed season will sure be a help. I agree with you I hope to be in the garden working away till the very last of my life. Really when you enjoy being out there so much it is hard to call it work. It certainly feels like work at times to an older weary body but the joy of being among nature and working for ourselves makes up for it doesn't it!!! Sarah

  10. What a productive, gorgeous space. Great to see how quickly the buk choy, lettuce etc has grown up. Inspires me to stop procrastinating and get mine planted:)

  11. It's a lovely time of year to be outdoors and in the garden. Yes, the "outernet", the perfect term :) I hope my vegie garden is as productive as yours one day. I have to marvel at you planting tomatoes and zucchini now, the growing seasons are so different in this country. I wonder if our climate will take an elder tree?

  12. Good morning Rhonda. I'm with you, in that there is no place where we feel more relaxed, contented & useful than when we're tending our home & it's surrounding environment.... words cannot describe it's therapeutic value to our general wellbeing. It allows us to happily work within our skill base but still presents opportunities for us to learn & grow. Our vegetable gardens are almost planted to capacity. We recently had a double garage built onto our barn as an extension to house the numerous farm vehicles (quad bikes, tractor/slasher, trailer & 3 ride-on mowers) that were cluttering up the barn. The builders moved a lot of earth to lay the slab & footings & now it's unbelievable how many tomatoes have come up in the excess piles of dirt. I've been kept busy transplanting them (with a sod of soil around their roots) into our garden beds. I think they"re all cherry tomatoes too, which we just love. Oh, & no matter what we do, we can't seem to grow garlic..... I think I need to borrow Hanno's green thumb!

  13. Hi Rhoda
    Great post, love the outernet and sitting under a tree.
    Most of my veges are in pots & recycled polystyrene boxes at present due to lack of garden space but this will change when we move at a later date. Love the strawberry idea, put that in my book of things to do.
    How do you and Hanno irrigate your garden? is it all by hand or have you set up a system to deliver rain water to your garden beds, I can't see any irrigation hoses or pipes.
    thanks for the lovely photos.
    Regards Leonie

    1. Hi Leonie. We only use rainwater on the vegie garden. We harvest the water from the roof and we have 15,000 litres in two tanks plus two smaller 200 litre collection points. One comes off the chook house and we use a watering can to spray that around, the other is on the front verandah and we have a gravity fed hose for watering pot plants out the front. We have a pump on both tanks so we can use a hose or sprinkler to get water to the plants.

    2. Thankyou for your reply Rhoda, always looking for ideas to help when we move up the coast, Leonie

  14. Your wonderful garden reminds me of better times to come Rhonda. My veggie beds are still covered in half a meter of snow! The one vegetable I have confidence in this year is garlic. We plant them in the late autumn for harvesting in July and the layers of snow won´t do them any harm.

    Hm, not many of us in this part of Sweden would enjoy sitting under the elder tree. In fact they are usually planted as far away from the house as possible. In our climate it´s a race between the gardener who is set on making elderflower cordial and the aphids to see who gets there first. If you are a bit slow off the mark every floret stem is thick with aphids. The next stage is the dripping sticky stuff given off by those little beasties. They are very big bushes/trees and spraying is not an option. Luckily we have plenty of alternatives for placing our garden seats.
    Good gardening!

    1. Hi Ramona. Good to see you again. Definitely no elder trees for sitting under in Sweden.

  15. Hi Rhonda,
    I've been reading your blog for about a year now and am thoroughly enjoying gradually simplifying my life in inner city Melbourne.
    I have a little balcony garden where I try to grow as many herbs and veggies as I can. I didn't have much luck growing Borage (unfortunately I dont get a lot of full sun), but I still have plenty of seeds left. I'd love to send them to you to plant in your garden if you would like.
    Let me know if you :)
    Happy Gardening!

    1. What a lovely surprise. I'd love that, thank you Courtney. If you email me at rhondahetzel@gmail.com, I'll send you my postal address. Thank again!

  16. I like comfrey tea as well but it doesn't half smell. My neighbours usually smell it and wonder what it is so I pre-empt them by remarking "see they've been using pig manure again" - which is what goes on the fields near us! Your garden is looking good, do your neighbours either side grow vegetables?

  17. My husband's Uncle Pino has one of the best fruit and vegie gardens I have ever seen.
    The amount of food he produces from his quarter acre block is astonishing.
    Doubly impressive coz he lives a couple of blocks back from the beach and has extremely sandy soil.
    I am always fascinated to visit and see what creative ideas he has come up with in his little patch.
    One of my favourite bits was the 4 tier garden.
    First he used a couple of bessemer blocks sideways for the edging of his garden, into that garden he planted onions, etc - in the little holes of the bessemer blocks he poked in strawberries. Above that he suspended 40 gallon drums sliced down the middle lengthways like troughs and planted chillies and herbs and suspended above that - a grapevine grew.
    He has chestnuts and figs and almonds and apples and nectarines.
    Any fruit you can imagine! (except tropical stuff)
    He really was/is a great inspiration to me as a home gardener.
    He also makes their own sausages and wine and passata and dried herbs and bread and stacks of other stuff.
    AND - he's not the only one of Vince's uncles like this!
    Sadly though, hardly any of Vince's cousins have carried on the traditions of their parents - such a shame.

  18. What a lovely post...as well said as usual. I enjoy starting my day with you,it always puts me in a good frame of mind. After I see what you are up to,I start my day slowly and calmly and ready to make my day the best it can be. So glad you are on the mend and able to get back to your usual routine! Have a great day! Darlene

  19. Hi Rhonda,
    So happy to have you out and about with us again. Glad to hear that the foot is getting better and wonderful to see Hanno looking like he's back to his self as well.
    When I saw the pictures of your garden I couldn't help but think what a difference to the previous images of scorched earth. It's wonderful this rebirth, this hope and promise of life.

    Trinidad & Tobago

  20. What a tidy and productive garden you have! I inherited quite an unruly patch when we moved here so I'm chipping away at it slowly but surely.
    I have added comfrey to my seed order this year - my first time making my own fertiliser for the garden, it's quite exciting!
    I'm itching to get outside, just waiting for the snow to melt...

  21. Hi Rhonda, Good news about your foot. I am so glad you enjoyed the mag, and it certainly was timed well, though not by design! We are off to visit far western Queensland for a week, so will be well and truly on the outernet! See you when we get back, Love Julia in Bowen xx

  22. I can't tell you how good it is to see photos of greenery and lush veggies. I don't know when we'll be able to get started with our seed trays this year. It's still like a frozen wasteland out there. Thank you for giving me hope! xx

  23. what a great site; I love 'outernet' and will use it all the time now. We left a busy (UK) city to live in in deepest wildest Wales and we now have four older hens and a new batch of five. We have a half acre plot and grow almost all our food now; it's such a buzz to serve up a meal to guests that came completely from our soil - or the hedgerows around us; I'm about to repeat last years successful batch of Rosehip syrup.
    I'm a writer and spend too much time on the internet, and you're right, gardening and hen-keeping really balances our lives.
    Nina Milton http://viewfromrhoshill.blogspot.com


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