Time for garden renovations!

Welcome to late winter here in NZ – a time for renovating our food gardens ready to plant new seedlings and seeds when the ground warms up a bit.


Here is an experiment we are running to

  • increase fertility of the very poor soil in the garden beds we inherited with the house
  • provide a weed-free covering so weeds don’t take over the new seedlings

We cut off the big weeds at their bases and added them to the compost bin.

On top of the ground we added compost [from the compost bin – don’t you love cycles like this?!] 20160819_170807

Then covered the lot with newspaper – 2-3 sheets thick.

Then on top spread a thin layer of wood shavings.

On top of this went ‘Fodda’ organic fertilizer mix [rock dust, fish meal, seaweed meal, etc]  and ‘blood and bone’ around the plants we wanted to keep.

The small lettuces, silver-beet and last-seasons-chillies had been struggling amidst the weeds so we will see how they respond to this experiment.

Woo20160819_170952d shavings need nitrogen to decompose and, if not supplied, take it from the soil so plants haven’t enough from what’s left, and struggle.

Let’s see how adding nitrogen in different forms, along with the wood shavings works.

Next, we net the garden so the resident black-birds can’t follow along behind and create havoc as they love to do!

The net is pulled tight along the bottom so they can’t squeeze underneath. [It is pegged to posts with common clothes pegs]20160819_170847

For black-bird, the net only needs to be knee-high or so, as they invade from ground-level here.

For sparrows etc, the bed needs to be covered completely as they fly down and into it.

Each year we explore new ways and directions – isn’t food-gardening wonderful?!

A new garden!

A new garden!

How did we re-make the front into a thriving garden?

Last winter we looked at the sad, struggling bushes we inherited in the front ‘lawn’, which, along with a dead tree was ‘the front’. This story is about how we re-made the front of the house, facing the street into a flourishing garden to feed us and add color to all our lives in winter too.

It began as a struggling, sloping ‘lawn’ of mown weeds on clay – all the top-soil went when the sub-division was created 30 years ago I think. Water flowed straight off, down to the street gutter. The [large] dead tree came down and became firewood [where usable] or left to rot and become soil otherwise.

Beginning to make terraces

We added terraces.

Covered the ground with newspaper and cardboard to create a new ‘weed-free’ garden on top.

Beginning with covering the ground




We went around the established bushes.

Next, in went branches from over-grown bushes, rampant vines pruned back, dead tree limbs. Then on went grass clippings and mulch – anything without seeds. On top of all went a truck-load of lovely mulch of ground up tree prunings.

To make a lovely mulch garden ready for planting in spring. Feed with worm juice, blood and bone, lime, rock dust, coffee grounds, ‘Fodda’ [which is a mixture of organic nutrients] and anything else seed-free!wpid-20150815_165819.jpg

Then, in went bulbs. And they came up so fast we had fragrant flowers in early spring.


Then dwarf trees, small bushes and veg seeds and seedl20160228_081413ings. Seed by seed, plant by plant, bit by bit, it grew and flourished.


A year on, as the mulch and branches rot down and feed the plants:

2016-08-12 17.59.03

And plants seem to be growing happily, with new leaves and flowers.

Isn’t nature amazing – growing vibrant plants, even on clay?! With a little bit of help, grow organic matter and the plants thrive too.


Our first persimmon!


We planted a persimmon tree 18 months ago as an experiment – we had never grown them before. What would they be like? Could it grow here in a small suburban yard? On clay [all the top-soil went with the subdivision]? Would it like Auckland’s semi-tropical climate with warm, moist summers?

Persimmons are deciduous small trees and lose their leaves in winter so I thought it may just be a hopeful dream to grow our own organic ones.

Yet, here it is. Our small tree which we ‘sort-of’ espaliered on the fence in a narrow garden bed has lots of lovely green leaves and now has ripening fruit! Wonderful.


What experiments do you wonder about? Do start, you never know what is possible anywhere until you try.

Food gardens in bags of compost

Food gardens in bags of compost
Starting a new garden in a bag of compost
Starting a new garden in a bag of compost

Bags of potting mix or even compost can make great gardens – really good if you just move into a new home or rent or don’t have any soil to garden in.
Even better placed on something so they are at waist height!

Start making the garden in its final (sunny) resting place as it is easier to move an intact bag than one with holes in it.

Garden in a bag of compost growing well.
Garden in a bag of compost growing well.

Cut holes in one side of a large bag of potting mix or compost – to be drainage holes.
Turn bag over. Cut more holes in top side big enough to plant seedlings into and to water.
Place bag on a mesh or frame of some sort so it can drain.

We trialed a ‘wicking’ system to water plants from a bottle. We usually used a watering can instead. Poke a finger into the soil and you can feel if it is moist or dry and needs water. We checked daily.

These bags grew great lettuce, greens, broccoli, kale.

Garden in a bag of compost well grown.
Garden in a bag of compost well grown.

Best Winter Lettuce Variety Experiment: June 2014

Best Winter Lettuce Variety Experiment: June 2014

We planted a range of lettuce seedling varieties to see the best options for winter supplies in 2014, Auckland, New Zealand.

lettuce trial - winter 2014
Home garden lettuce trial – winter 2014, Auckland NZ
Lettuce trial - winter 2014 - Lolla rossa good productivity
Lolla rossa foxy: good productivity in our home garden

Best by far is ‘Lolla Rossa Foxy’ with crinkly broad soft leaves grading from bright green to brown edges [back row of garden bed].

The cos [front row, 2nd from right] were a sad second last. Last were red cultivars which rotted through the stems and died before producing edible leaves [they were in the middle of the front row].

lettuce winter trial 2014 - good and poor
lettuce winter trial 2014 – good and poor productivity

Oakleaf lettuce forms are slowly growing. Direct seed sown Oakleaf lettuces are doing better than seedlings transplanted.

All were covered by a plastic poly tunnel and treated equally.

This garden is near the harbour and soil is clayey with bought compost over the top. Garden bed faces north-west, is brand new, raised, and beside a fence.


Different varieties really do provide different outcomes depending on climate and soil. Even if I prefer one type of lettuce, I may have better production from a less favored variety when my favourite dislikes the conditions. I love growing a range to see which do best for us.

Our first new bed in a new home – so happy!

Our first new bed in a new home – so happy!

2014-04-09 15.31.42

It may be on a clay base – we can convert it to productive beds anyway. Lots of gypsum, compost, and potting mix.

Set up a frame for a bird-netting cage to protect new seeds and seedlings from birds and cats [we don’t have either but they sure come visiting from the neighbourhood].

Plant seeds and seedlings and firm roots gently into the soil then water gently.

Spread non-toxic snail bait around seedlings or surround the bed edge with copper wire to deter snails and slugs.

Cover with bird netting.

Watch the small plants and care for them as they grow.

Growing greens
Growing greens