Unexpected Things in The Winter Garden

We have had so much rain this winter that it’s been hard to get time in the garden. That and the reality of a rough winter for sicknesses. The Little Fulla keeps bringing colds home from school and giving them to Miss Scarlet. It’s hard to keep on top of normal things like meals and cleaning let alone all the gardening that I would like to be doing. Thankfully, the colds have been fairly mild so far and I am so grateful that we haven’t had covid or the flu, both of which are pretty rampant here. Our immune systems are getting challenged and hopefully building back strength because of it.

Well, at least we hadn’t had anything nasty until the weekend when Miss Scarlet came down with something fevery, right on her birthday. The birthday girl was barely present for her first birthday and the poor wee thing was so upset. Half the guests didn’t make it either because they or family members were sick. It was nice to spend time with family members anyway and I’m grateful Miss Scarlet is on the mend now. The rest of us are fine and will hopefully remain that way. It’s hard to believe our little baby is one. Every day I am thankful she is here and for the time that I get to spend with her.

Amazingly, I actually got a cake made for Miss Scarlet. And she did get to eat some eventually. Hooray for winter flowers! My favourite camellia starts flowering at the perfect time.

Most of the time this winter has been wet but mild in temperatures, which is not the kind of winter I prefer. However, the upside to mild temperatures is that we still had pepper plants alive in the garden until a few frosty mornings in a couple of weeks ago. Pepper plants WITH PEPPERS. The plants were a bit bug-eaten and worse-for-wear but it is bizarre to have peppers growing and ripening in winter.

Bell peppers. In winter.

We have also been enjoying sunflowers! I am so glad I sowed the red sunflowers earlier in autumn. I wasn’t sure if they would grow in time but they have been a beautiful sight in the main Veggie Garden, against the backdrop of old crops falling apart. They are ‘Royal Rouge’ sunflowers, previously known as ‘Moulin Rouge’ until a run-in with copyright issues. There is a lot of variation in how the flowers turn out because they are a pollenless variety. From what I understand, the seeds come from a cross between two parent sunflowers, one pollenless (with the best colouring) and one that sets seeds. So the plants grown from the seeds won’t always have the best colouring of the pollenless parent. This two-parent growing relationship has to carry on for more seed production since the offspring plants aren’t likely to set seeds themselves. But I can see why people would go through the bother. They are so stunning! We had one with the most beautiful burgundy colouring, one with rich, dark reddish-brown petals and others with various amounts of yellow on brown-red petals. I need more of these sunflowers in my life. The latest frosts killed them off. But they’ll be back next season.

The Front Plot is the best-looking part of the productive gardens at the moment. The brassicas are growing well. We’re using kale and tatsoi leaves and the purple pak choy is ready to be harvested and cooked too. The barley straw that worked so well in summer does have a problem at this time of year. Apparently the cold season is its time to sprout, especially when there is so much rain. All the grassy bits in the photo are barley seeds that have sprouted and haven’t been weeded out by me yet. I’m growing my own mulch. Just not in the right places.

The Front Plot: brassicas, garlic and parsley, a few lettuces and more brassicas.

The main Veggie Garden has fallen to the wayside somewhat. I still have some old crops and weeds to remove and most of the beds need topping up with compost. I have planted a bunch of lettuce varieties, spinach and perennial onions. I bought two kinds of self-perpetuating onions: potato onions, which are similar to shallots, and Egyptian walking onions. Both of these self-propagate, so provide an ongoing crop year after year. The potato onions divide and multiply in the soil like spring onions or bunching onions. The Egyptian walking onions grow little bulbils in the seedheads, which then bend over and touch the soil, where the wee bulbils start to grow a new crop, hence the name ‘walking’. You can save the bulbils for growing the next year.

I’ve just planted the last of the cauliflowers and red cabbages in the main Veggie Garden. Better late than never. I was pleased to see little celery seedlings popping up in a raised bed once again. I like my self-perpetuating crops! There are also self-sown leeks, lettuces, pak choy and red-stemmed beets around the raised beds. I recently heard something in favour of not doing crop rotation in an organic, regenerative system because keeping crops in the same place allows an ecosystem to develop that suits those crops. Theoretically, if you look after the soil, microorganisms and beneficial insects well and grow what grows well in your area you shouldn’t have a lot of trouble with bad pests or diseases.

I am pondering these things with anticipation since I have been breaking crop rotation rules more and more. I would like to try and keep growing crops in the beds or rows that suit them so I can cater the soil amendments and mulch to their needs. This also means things can self-sow where I want them and they won’t be in the way of changing crops. It also means I won’t have to spend time and thought on how to rotate the crops every year in a small garden and I will get a much better idea of what I can fit in and how many seedlings I should start. I am going to enjoy this experimentation.

The Veggie Garden is currently half productive and half still in need of cleanup.
I don’t know how many varieties of lettuce I’ve got growing. I got a bit enthusiastic with the lettuces.
A frosty, moon-studded morning, but the lettuces can handle it.

We have acquired all the materials needed to replace our falling-apart front fence. Now we just need to get it built somehow. After we’ve removed the old one. It will be a bit of a mission with a baby to work around. I still have a lot of fruit tree pruning to do when the weather and life will cooperate. The half of the big feijoa that we pruned has been sprouting like there’s no tomorrow, including at the bottom of the trunk, so I need to tame it.

The big feijoa tree has had no trouble growing new branches. The tangerines are becoming ripe now and the little lime tree is happy.

It will be chicken breeding season soon so I’ll have to get organised for some level of hatching. With just one rooster I won’t have to do any separating.

Basil has been a very chilled-out rooster. Hopefully not too chilled-out for breeding season. He has fans over the other side of the fence now.

There’s so much to get done around here but I just keep going, one bit at a time. Our pantry and freezers are more well-stocked than ever before so I feel like I can focus on the garden more now. But the rhubarb is getting bigger every day with all the rain so I am going to have to stew some rhubarb. And we’re out of chicken stock so I need to make some more of that too…

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