The Summer Garden – Let’s Get Down to Business

Having finished my temporary work and having the last frost past us, it was time to get down to business in the summer veggie garden.

I’m happy to be back to homesteading, but before I ran off the the garden I did have to be responsible and get on top of at least some of the housework. Then there are crops from winter that have to be pulled out to make way for new crops. And these crops need to be used or preserved in some way. At the moment I’m juggling harvesting and dealing with old crops and planting or sowing new crops. There are other things going on in the pipeline for the homestead too and The Husband got a sudden urge to build a workbench to sell. It’s a pity we can’t keep it, as it is nice, nicer than our one, but it isn’t the right size for our garage. We’ve got plenty more uses for those kinds of skills around here though!

The workbench The Husband made is quite something.

Since there were carrots and leeks that needed to come out in one of the allocated tomato spaces, that meant it was time to make some stock. Also, we had run out of chicken stock. Also, the ‘chicken bits’ freezer draw was full. So I made a big load of chicken stock. The carrots, leeks, celery, parsley and thyme came from the garden, joined by onions and garlic that we didn’t grow. We use a lot of onions. I ought to come up with a plan of how I can grow more…

Then came the chicken. This is the part that people might get weirded-out by. I used two of the small cockerels I butchered plus a bunch of saved-up chicken feet, necks and hearts from the freezer. It sounds weird and as I prepared and stirred my concoction, I was amusingly aware of how weird it would look to other people. But that’s what chefs do in good restaurants. And it’s extremely satisfying making some yummy, healthy chicken stock from chickens we’ve raised and processed and veggies we’ve grown.

Seeing how gelatinous the stock was after cooling down in the fridge was also satisfying. Natural gelatin is good for our bodies. I am keeping some of the chicken stock in the fridge for a morning cup and some has gone into the freezer in our new freezer-safe jars. For future reference, bottles aren’t the best storage option for stock in the fridge. It’s so gelatinous when it’s cold that it’s hard to get out. It’s like putting jelly in a bottle. I’ve also made one lot of sauerkraut from red cabbages and have more to do. I will make sure I don’t put too much into the jars next time so as not to create a purple water feature in the pantry. Oops!

There was a lot of orach (red mountain spinach) that I had to pull out of the garden to make space for beans and cucumbers to go in. The self-sowed orach germinated in winter and grew quite happily all winter long. It was also far less attacked by slugs and snails than the spinach and kale growing beside it. They don’t seem to like it a whole lot. Which makes orach very useful. I washed the leaves and put some in a glass dish in the fridge for later meal use and the rest into a large freezer bag to whizz up like we do with kale. We already have several large bags of kale in the freezer. And I’ve just harvested and pulled out all but one of the kale plants from the Front Plot. It’s sinks full of greens around here. There’s the last of the broccoli and also some celery that needs to be chopped and frozen as well. I guess there’s now a minor preserving period in spring since we’re growing more things during the winter. Although it doesn’t feel minor right now.

Sinks full of greens are a feature around here at the moment.

Since we’re stepping it up a notch with the amount of food crops we’re growing, we needed to invest in some more permanent materials for support structures. I used to use bamboo poles tied together to make bamboo teepees of various kinds, but they don’t last long enough, would take up too much space and are too time-consuming to make for the amount of tomatoes we’re getting into. I was going to get some wire mesh panels to tie onto metal standards; like what are called cattle panels in the US, but finding galvanised panels of that size near to us proved difficult. I found one place in a different region that had exactly what I wanted, but the cost of getting them shipped here made them a bit expensive. We thought about buying reinforcing mesh, which is of the size I wanted, and spray painting it with a protective coating, but even that was going to cost a bit much. Then I found a different method.

What we’ve got is 2.4m (7.9ft) metal standards or Y posts, a 50mm (2in) PVC tee on top of each one and 2mm (3/4in) metal conduit (pipe) sitting horizontally inside the PVC tees. There will be a length of string tied onto the pipe for each tomato plant so the plant can be wound up it. Here’s the link to the video where the idea came from, by Josh Sattin. Note that we’ve used wider metal conduit, which will be stronger, and bigger PVC tees because 50mm ones are what fit over top of our Y posts.

The new trellis system we’re trying. The strings haven’t been tied onto the metal conduit yet.

This is a better variation of how we grew tomatoes up strings one time in our Christchurch garden. We put two timber posts at each end of the garden bed and ran a wire between the tops of them to tie the string onto. The posts weren’t situated deeply enough in the ground and the wire sagged a bit under the weight of the tomatoes. But it was ok. I grew cucumbers plants up strings in greenhouses when I worked on a cucumber farm, so that is where I got that idea from. What we tried in our old garden was version 1.0. The method we are trying now is version 2.0. It is better because it’s removable, storable and can be put up wherever it’s needed. We purchased a post rammer to hit the standards into the ground. One axe-to-the-hand injury last summer was enough. This summer we are using this trellis method just for tomatoes.

I wanted to make an arch to grow beans on, so I attached two of the old wire mesh panels we already had together with cable ties and the prongs from one end also bent over the other panel. Then we arched it over the veggie bed and secured it to the ground by cable tying it to a 1.35m (4.4ft) metal standard on each side. The other pieces of mesh panel we had were smaller, so I made a squared trellis next to the arch by tying three panels together. The climbing beans and one variety of cucumber will be grown on these. The other cucumbers get a mesh panel attached to bamboo stakes and rebar across their raised bed. The bamboo does make an appearance this year after all. Because I don’t have any more standards.

Over half of the 60 planned tomato plants are in now. The cucumbers, squashes and pumpkins are following close behind. The beans have all been sowed safely into trays because there are so many slugs and snails around. The second wave of corn has been sowed and I’m thrilled to see that every one of the 21 seeds we sowed in the first wave has come up. I wasn’t sure how well they would germinate since they were poked down through the mulch and since I had a little five-year-old helper.

I’m figuring out places to put celery and a few other crops that weren’t entirely on my spreadsheet. Or not in as many numbers as what I sowed. Oops. I really need to get the potatoes in but the red cabbage still needs to be ousted and converted into sauerkraut. The peppers are waiting until it’s warmer to go in so I need to make sure I don’t steal their allocated spaces. And yet I suddenly feel a desire to grow some kumara (sweet potato). But I don’t have anywhere to put it. Well, maybe I’ll fit it in next year.

There are a lot of chickens around and they are enjoying being thrown remnants of old crops to eat and scratch at. I really will do a chicken update some time soon, but the vegetable garden is taking priority at the moment. Must get all the things planted! Here are some more photos of the Veggie Garden. I’m enjoying the amount of flowers that are gathering in there.

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