The basic tenet of my gardening actions is to care for the soil. I so appreciate the value of the living organisms that function sight unseen beneath the ground. I suppose it’s a biological partnership that we enter into when we garden. Worms recycle humus and produce vermicast as they dig and delve beneath our feet. That’s why I try to tread lightly – and when, like we do here, keep a few animals for grazing purposes, it gets difficult at times to walk with a light footprint. I seek to grow healthy soil and to establish gardens with minimal input.
Care of the earth means care of all living and nonliving things: soils, species and their varieties, atmosphere, forests, micro-habitats, animals, and waters. it implies harmless and rehabilitative activities, active conservation, ethical and frugal use of resources, and “right livelihood” (working for useful and beneficial systems.
I am concerned about the long-term consequences of hoof pugging by our animals. We don’t have a large herd in the commercial sense (that’s another and broader-issue). I have to think of sustainable solutions for our place. Do we use the tractor to plough the soil? The machinery would further compact the soil and cut up the micro-animal life beneath the ground. I prefer (idealistically some might say) to do my best to grow soil with the biomass we have naturally to hand. We rotate our animals away from wet paddocks and fence off stream-banks to minimise erosion. On the up side, our cattle provide manure that attracts the worms that transform it into vermicast. Trees or branches that are felled during stormy weather are a recyclable source of bio-degradable matter. But then chainsaws and chipper machinery uses fuel energy. And so it it goes weighing up the pros and cons.
I guess at this point, I use my energy where it produces fresh food. I’ll let my photos do the rest of the talking.
A few nights ago at 2.00 a.m. we woke to an almighty thunderous bang. Our first thought was that lightning had struck our roof. A sub-antarctic weather pattern had swept up the country during the night. Multiple lightning strikes lit the sky that night – including a spectacular show of fork lightning. I pulled the duvet over my head – couldn’t be bothered worrying at that time of the night.
There were no floods this time – we recorded about 15 to 16 mm of rain. But the stormy squalls have created squelchy soil conditions. Our problem is to keep the animals off the grass. Heavy animals do real damage to the grass as their hooves sink into the water-logged clay soil. We’d anticipated heavy rain and Himself shifted our cattle the previous day to a sheltered paddock should it rain heavily. We have a hard stand-off area that was once historically a minor rural farm road that runs between our polyhouse and the totara trees. It’s a great windbreak and shelter from the cold rain for the animals. Even still, the pugging is visible in the paddocks and our concern is the compaction of the soil.
The blustery westerly wintery fronts continue. Today is the first opportunity I’ve had to get a good look at the vegetable garden after the stormy weather. However, there’s always something to cheer about and to enjoy. The cyclamen and daffodils are rewarding. I’m relieved to see vegies I planted in May are growing as they should. At least the day and night temperatures are still conducive to growth. Snow doesn’t happen in our region – but we can get a light frost in our valley.
I am always concerned about the life of soil under my gumboots. I’ve been reading Gaia’s Garden; a guide to home-scale permaculture by Toby Hemenway (2000). Ponder this:
An acre of good pasture may support a horse of two, say about a half-ton of aboveground animals. But living in the soil of that acre may be 2 tons of worms and another 2 tons of bacteria, fungi, and soil animals such as millipedes and mites.
The health of the myriad of animal life is one heap of responsibility. At present my soil is rich with earthworms. They and all the other mites need humus to feed on in order to rebuild the soil. If we’re to have animals on our lifestyle block then we have to keep the micro live-stock well nourished with humus.
Well, I’ve been getting dirt under my fingernails. Tonight, I rushed home from work and changed into my alter-ego suit of gumboots and old gardening clothes that I keep just for this purpose. Himself says I’m never to complain ever again about his favourite perfectly good for-another-twenty-years pair of trousers. What is it about Kiwi blokes and their clothes? It’d be OK if this bloke wore them to garden in!
The weather has cooperated big time – we’re having unusually benevolent night-time temperatures so I haven’t had to worry about covering things with the frost cloth. But that doesn’t mean cold nights aren’t going to happen here in Northland. I’m intent on getting as much planted and established as quickly as possible. That includes red onions, spring onions, chives and brassicas. It’s Matariki here down-under and the solstice is in a few days so the garlic is in (it’s traditional to plant on the shortest day and harvest on the longest day).
I changed my blog header photo to reflect the early winter scene at our place. I enjoy the sculptural spectacle of the bare branches. There’s always something to marvel at – be it the silky spider webs or the last of the gaudy coloured autumn leaves. Today, a few days since that photo was taken, the first Magnolia (Star Wars) blooms have burst into their full crimson glory. I’ll post a show-off photo later on. Oh – and the Paper-white and Earlicheer daffodils have made an early appearance! I love going out each day and discovering the excitement of new growth. Such energy in my garden.
The cattle pictured in the paddocks are very happy to get bedding hay at nights now as the grass growth has slowed. They’ll be sent to the local cattle sale in about a week. We don’t keep heavy animals over winter because they pug the soil which in turn affects the grass growth.
I don’t know what’s happened to my Platial NZ map – it’s disappeared. The joys of learning how to manage a blog.
Since I returned home, I’ve been busy in the garden – with some manual help from number two son and his sons. Two-year-old pea-picking, ‘tato inspector who featured in some of my posts last year is a ‘big boy’ now aged three and his baby brother is now 18 months old with a another sibling expected in August – how time flies. I’ll just have to get more garden trowels and forks for these budding gardeners. At least Daddy gets fit giving wheel-barrow rides. And I got to re-plant the spring onions and red cabbages that three-year-old triumphantly declared to be ‘weeds’.
Vegetables and fruit are quite expensive to buy at present. And the stuff fresh-picked from the garden seems so much tastier. I’m pushing my luck and trying to get some vegetables growing for our winter months. I’ve never started this late in the season before. I can’t believe it’s almost a year ago I wrote about Matariki (Pleiades) re-appearing in our southern skies to herald a new growing season. It’s time to celebrate the Maori New Year again. As I mentioned in my last post, weedy growth was rampant in my absence. See my before and after photos.
In the interest of getting a head start, I cheated this time and bought the mini-variety seedlings of cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. I read they mature quicker – so I’m crossing my fingers that is so. The temperatures are not too bad – the coldest we experienced the other night was about 4 degrees C. The garden beds are reasonbly sheltered from prevailing winds and have a north-south alignment so get full sun. I have raised beds and and compost so here’s hoping we don’t get an early frost.
Friend at work has put in a very early crop of potatoes. I’ve got some seed Cliff Kidney potatoes chitted and will plant them and see how we go. I’ll put frost cloth over at nights as needed.
We’re enjoying the last of our tamarillo fruits. It’s a rewarding fruit – raw or cooked. Loaded with Vitamin C and makes a wonderful fruit crumble for dessert or sauce to accompany pork. Such an easy plant to grow – never know whether to call it a tree or not. Bigger problem is the rats and possums that also love the fruit. Must the be the healthiest pests around!
Next on the action list is to sow Broad Beans or a green crop for over-winter. Then the strawberry beds need attention and feeding. Then there’s the roses to prune. And I really should deal seriously to the pests. On reflection, think I’ll add a To Do – snuggle up in front of the fire, glass of wine in hand and read the new season’s gardening catalogues.