I never considered myself to have green thumbs. Far far from it indeed – I used to kill everything that I touched! But, after years of sneaking deceased plants into my wheeley bin in shame, one day I decided that I was no quitter; I wanted to feed my family home grown goodness that I’d always enjoyed as a kid, and therefore I was NOT going to let gardening get the best of me anymore – I would conquer this gardening business if it was the last thing I did! The pursuit of a decent kitchen garden began…
After several years of perseverance, some epic wins, and some dismal failures, I am now the owner of a pretty decent garden. It’s always a work in progress, but I’m pretty happy with my efforts; it feeds our family well.
My journey began several Christmas’s ago, when my youngest brother helped me build some raised planter boxes for our deck…
That first year, those babies shone! We enjoyed litre after litre of bountiful tomatoes, the best celery ever, huge amounts of scrummy capsicums, and herbs to garnish every meal. I felt like my fingers had turned from brown to magic, as I seemed to be succeeding at things my parents and grandparents had been unable to achieve. Not that I gloated as I shared out my hard-to-grow-in-Wellington abundant crops. Much.
The following year, we decided to move the pots off our deck and down onto the lower lawn. This was not a winning move at the time. That summer my garden struggled to flourish, just as my personal life was. I learned the hard way, that putting things ‘out of sight, out of mind’, was not a recipe for success for life in general, let alone my garden. The garden wasn’t a complete right off, but it sure wasn’t going to win any awards that year. Something had to change. So, (with much eye rolling from Mr Flutter) we moved the (extremely heavy) garden beds back up the hill and onto the deck, close to hand so that they could be doted on once again.
Only a few months after moving the planter boxes, we decided to add some chickens to our family, with the goal to enjoy fresh eggs. It didn’t take me long to realise that since we now had to go down the bottom everyday to look after the chickens, that area of the yard was no longer out of sight, out of mind, and it would be good to have the garden down there after all. After casually floating the idea to Mr Flutter and hearing his response, I decided that rather than having him commit me to a mental hospital for asking him to move the planters a fourth time, I would create some new garden beds instead, so that we could expand the space we had available for the garden.
We started with no real plan in mind, other than the fact that I wanted to create a berry hedge like I had seen on TV, and add to our fruit trees. I purchased some fruit trees; 2 x fejoia trees, a 3-type nectarine tree, a 3-type apple tree, 2 x thornless blackberries, 2 x thornless loganberries, and a mandarin tree. These pretty much dictated the layout of the space, and we set to work digging, digging and more digging.
This photos is AFTER we removed as many rocks as we could – we soon discovered that our soil is as much rocks as it is clay. Not the easiest to develop!
At first we started with 2 beds. But a few months down the track, we decided to add a few more raised garden beds, and a few months later this is how it looked:
The expanded garden space has worked out much better than I could have imagined.
After reducing my hours of work from full-time to part-time in December, my determination to conquer growing from seeds, something I had previously never managed to succeed at before, rose and I went and stocked up on seeds of every kind (this is not all of them).
I am happy to report that I did it – I grew from seeds!
Not everything has become ready to harvest yet, but I’m so happy I tried it again, and succeeded, because I have found that not only growing from seed is much much cheaper, but there is also a much wider range of things available to grow, when I’m not limiting myself to buying seedlings from the store. I have still purchased a few packs of seedlings since, because after 2 failed attempts at germinating brussel sprouts I decided those seeds were dud, and I haven’t been able to find seeds for my favourite variety of lettuce yet. But overall I’ve saved a bunch of money not relying on seedlings!
In mid-summer we ended up moving the chickens to the other end of our lawn, under some nice shady trees, to avoid them dying of heat stroke in the crazy 35+ heatwave we had, and since the grass was already dead where the chickens had been, I decided to add yet another garden bed. This meant I got to plant my winter veges much sooner than I usually get to when I’m relying on waiting until after my summer plants finish. So I’m optimistic my winter garden will be my most successful yet, with its earlier head start.
And our chicken mansion expanded down the other end of the yard…
Our chickens have been a great addition to the family. We enjoy the personality they bring to our yard, and they aren’t that much work. I have learned so much by having them though, and there is a lot that I would do differently the second time. Unfortunately we had to put 2 out of the first 3 down due to illness, which was very sad for all of us. The last one left of the original 3 hylines is doing extremely well. She’s reliable as anything. I let her out while I water the garden each day and she loves to follow me around and get into mischief in my garden.
After we put the first chicken down we decided to get 3 more (hence the second house in the picture above). These babies are all different breeds, just to change it up a bit – we now have a white leghorn, a barnevelder crossed with a hyline, and a buff sussex. They are not as tame as miss hyline, and I’ve found from experience not quite so easy to catch (imagine me chasing one up and down the neighbours bank – not glamorous or cool!) so they do not get allowed out of their cage and are kept next-door to miss hyline but separate from her. I feel a bit sorry for miss hyline being all by herself at night with no one to keep her warm, since we had to put her sister down a week ago, but she’s too antisocial to the younger ones to mix, so she will have to remain separate for everybody’s own good. We can’t wait until they start laying, which should hopefully happen anytime this month.
(before 5 became 4)
So that is my kitchen garden.
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way:
- It’s all about the soil – good soil, specifically designed for fruit & vege gardens is the best. My favourite is from Oderings. It’s the priciest, but I always have such abundant crops whenever I splash out on that soil – there is such a noticeable difference!
- I find it easier to direct sow seeds. Transplanting doesn’t work well for me, because I find it harder to get the right moisture balance in seed trays.
- It’s worth taking the time to find the sunniest spot.
- Home grown tastes so much better!
- Don’t be scared to try heirloom varieties.
- Growing carrots from seed tape is THE best invention ever.
- Don’t try growing brassica’s without derris dust on hand. Every year I try, but nothing else will quite keep those pesky white butterflies at bay.
- It’s not that hard. If I can do it anyone can.
Now I’m slowly developing all of the other landscaping around the property, and I’m enjoying trying my hand at growing many different flowers. I’ll share some more about that later.
Are you a gardener? What’s your favourite thing to grow?