here's hoping they're tasty at very least...

here’s hoping they’re at least tasty


It’s been an extremely wet few weeks here, and in an attempt to get the wee man out of his mum’s hair we popped outside to finish a job in the garden: boxing the mandarin tree. The other main project recently finished is the front garden, pictured below:

The front garden: flowers due in, 2012

Now we have some very small bamboo plants that might just make it, and this bark garden all laid out for them to grow into. Eventually the bamboo will come up enough for me to place another garden to the left of this one, complete with partial-shade loving flowering shrubs.

The citrus itself was due to be brought up to a similar state, but I wasn’t certain about the utility of using punga. This is because the slope of the site is very high, and I didn’t want to find a punga log rolling off down the lawn after a big rain. Luckily, we have been cleaning out the basement of the house. I found an old window frame that is now next to useless, and decided to use it as boxing. There is the chance that it’s painted with lead paint, and could well be treated timber… but for now it’s providing a useful border!

As you can see, I dropped it down to measure out the site, then dug out enough clay to lay it in. I’ve blocked out the front of the boxing with some more old timber to level the frame as much as possible, and turned over as much of the clay as I could. Remember – citrus hate clay. I’m doing all this to try get a crop off this tree despite the site.

Next, I got my able helper here to put in a whole lot of environmentally unfriendly peat moss (thanks for pointing that one out Andrew – no more buying that…) and some compost provided by the local scouts ($5 a bag – bargain), then turned it all into the soil. But, what I didn’t do was fill the boxing to the top. The trick here is to leave enough space for the second step.

What I figure is that I have a three years of mulching to get the top layer of soil in this boxing as humus-rich as possible. This means I need space to put in bark and other types of detritus and not have it blow away or roll down the hill.

And there it is, my helper is still adding peat moss – he’s a little stubborn like that – but the first layer of bark is in.

Eventually I might knock out the framing and replace it with something a little better, but maybe not. As it is it will be keeping some nearby trees from digging into the mulch (there will also be liberal use of shovel near fence-line…), and should be pretty useful.

Time will tell, I guess.

We have ongoing progress in the vege gardens. In particular, the ‘organic’ approach I’m taking seems to be working well – although the extremely mild weather we’ve have prior to this week seems to have helped.

The beginners garden, with accompanying crops

The first photo shows the beginners garden, and the potatoes have really taken off. They’re planted too close together, so I’m ignoring furrowing properly, and will harrow the lot come August. You can also see that the rye grass has done pretty well.

Rye grass turned under

I’ve turned the rye grass under, and have sown a lot of mustard seeds on the same patch, come August I’ll turn that under before putting garlic in this section of the garden.

And finally, the upper garden has had it’s final treatment. The fertiliser and soil conditioners have had a week or so to mellow, and I added a wheelbarrow of compost mixed the remnants of my peat moss. On top of that was added some lupin seeds, and yet more mustard seed. In August (the magical month it seems) this whole section will be turned over to potatoes.

The Upper Garden

Over the the right of the garden is a bunch of pavers someone was giving away! Win! Saved us at least $100 by grabbing these and carting them around to here. My next project for this part of the property is sinking those in.

And last but not least, coriander!

Coriander Seedlings

These little guys are destined to be the main ingredient in a curry!

A good couple of weeks. Now to see how the garden handles this cold snap.

Time will tell.

As a kid I remember visiting a some folk who lived in the country, and them having an absolutely huge mandarin tree. I’ve wanted on of my own ever since, but haven’t had the space.

So… we thought we’d put this part of the yard to good use.

The Orchard

This is the very top of the property, a relatively sheltered spot that gets a heck of a lot of sun. There is already a peach tree coming along nicely, and a feijoa that doesn’t seem to want to fruit (it’s in poor soil and is needing a heck of a lot of TLC, along with another tree to mate with). Consequently we’re calling it ‘The Orchard’.

In the distance there you can see where I’ve put the tree. It’s sheltered from the Southerly, the coldest wind, is on a sloped bit of the Orchard, and has quite dry soil. This means we’re 50-50 on the needs of this particular type of tree.

Chop-chop kitty! Gotta get this dug!

The first thing to do was to dig a very large hole. Citrus, like many fruit trees, have a number of small fibrous roots they use to draw in nutrients when they being to produce. This means that soil with heavy clay is no good. It prevents the roots from extending out, and makes it hard for the tree to draw up what it needs. They also cause the deeper roots to become waterlogged.

What I’ll eventually do is box the area around this particular tree, dig down enough to break up the clay, and fill the boxing with mulch. This matter will break down into the type of soil this plant likes, and hopefully encourage it to fruit healthily. Hence the next photo. As you can see I’ve dug a keyhole shape, with the lower portion forming a ‘drain’ of sorts for water. The intention is for water to run out of this key and downhill, preventing waterlogging of the roots (hence the sloped aspect).

What my able assistance there is doing is putting river stones into the channel. I would have also added sand, but it was too expensive to buy, and salty sand wasn’t good. These should stop the channel from clogging again, and perhaps even encourage the shallow roots to grow along. Time will tell.

And here we go!

Clementine, a good all-round mandarin tree

One plant in the ground. These photos we taken a couple of weeks ago, and the tree is still doing well. I dropped it into the hole, and filled the space with the familiar mix of the original clay, some gypsum, peat moss, and compost. I’ll eventually get around to removing those sods I’ve put on top to stop the soil washing away, box the entire plant out to about 9 square metres, turn over all the captured soil, and begin about three years of mulching… seriously.

Apparently you can’t let them fruit for three years, as it inhibits root growth.

But no one ever said gardening gave immediate results, right?

The one thing that the suburbs seem to have is an endless fount of hard work. There are Mondays when I’m actually relieved to be heading to the bus because I know I’ll not be putting blisters and/or calluses onto my hands.

So while I was out cropping the grass with a hand mower this afternoon it occured to me. While I was gathering up the grass with a rake I thought about it some more because, as we all know, raking is very relaxing and zen. And it looks a lot like Object Dart will be converted to a gardening blog.

Back when I lived in Auckland I worked for two summers as a gardener, and I grew a large and full garden at a flat I lived in. This means I got to know a little about plants and planting, and it’s something I’d like to build on. Naturally there’s been some reading going on, and I think I’m about ready to really embrace the change of pace that is the suburbs and get up onto the bandwagon that is the middle-class garden.

Besides, I just like gardening.

So! A run-down. The property is 800m2 all up, but at least half of that is house, driveway, etc. None of that half is useful for gardening, except that the house blocks out the worst of the number one problem up here at Newlands Manor, the wind. The site is very very sunny, but also very very exposed. So windbreaking is the number one priority with everything we do. It is also foggy as all get-go a fair amount of time  year-round, so that needs to be accommodated. I had thought that I’d just give up and plant a lot of subalpine grasses and hebes, but then I realised that I’m just not that much of a sook.

And that is why I spent the better part of the Easter weekend putting in a vege patch. When I wasn’t helping with Chef Du Plunge, enjoying the visiting inlaws, or cropping the lawn for clippings to put in the compost that is.

Here’s a photo.

What we have here is the site laid out. This bit of lawn used to be under a shed, so the soil is compacted and a bit awful. Worse, the ground itself is dense clay at best, and hard sandstone at worst – some of which was less than a spade’s depth from the grass.

I’ve dug two trenches, one to the north, and one to the west, and began the process of terracing this bit of lawn into a raised garden bed. This is very important because it will allow the garden itself to drain more effectively than digging trenches or laying fancy piping.

It also fits the natural shape of the site, something you’ll hear me waxing lyrical about a fair bit.

Into the trenches I’ve placed a series of macrocarpa sleepers, levelled them to very near horizontal (they were never going to be *absolutely* level…), and put a second course on top. I’ve also left small drainage holes, and filled the spaces behind them with stones found on site. It will be interesting to see how much earth I lose thru these. I’m anticipating that plant life will fill them preventing too much erosion or slumping in the garden.

The next thing was digging in to at least a spade’s depth, sometimes too, and turning over the clay. This was actually heavy and hard work.

Once that was done I chopped up the sods of earth with a sharpened shovel, added lime, and turned it again. Y0u can also see that I’ve added some warratahs to support the outside of the sleepers. This will become important later when I need to string up windbreaks.

And finally, I was able to add gypsum, a healthy amount of sheep poo, a bunch of dried peat moss, and some compost out of our supply, and hoed the whole lot under.

And that, is the “Beginner’s Garden”, the first of the gardens I will put in. All that nutrient, fertiliser and plant matter (peat) and a load of watering has gone into to start the long process of breaking down the structure of the clay. I reckon a couple of years of breaking up that mass and it should be a fairly decent garden. It gets a fair amount of winter sun (but not too much), so should be good for plants that don’t like too much direct sunlight – the upper garden (still lawn) will be better for full light plants. During the summer the site is exposed to sun all day, while sheltered from the wind by the house.

The final step was to sow the first crop. Rye grass. Lupin was too expensive and we need some plants to kick off the little ecology of this patch, so cheap grass seed it was. It should start to sprout in a week or so, and then we’ll be on our way. By then I should have finished knocking the upper terrace into shape.

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