Tag Archives: tomatoes

What More Can I Do?

 

rosemary (1)
Rosemary

I started to grow neonic-free bee-loved plants to nourish the bees. Because there were few of them, perhaps because the city council sprayed nasty chemicals on the public zigzag outside my gate. The chemicals made me ill, so what were they doing to the bees?

So a lost two years ago I arranged with the city council that I’d care for a big area of the zigzag closest to our place, in return for No Spraying. And I planted lavender and rosemary, alyssum, phacelia, cornflowers, thyme. Nearby, the fruit trees, herbs and bushes flowered in my organic garden as they always did.

This New Zealand summer, the dandelions, calendula, parsley and borage kept right on flourishing and self-seeding in my garden and on the zigzag and I encouraged clover wherever it appeared. Would more bees flourish?

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Autumn: mature lavender above nearby borage, parsley, calendula and silver beet (chard) seedlings, near a primitive shelter for my turmeric plants, growing well in this warmer time

The answer, sadly, is No. At the end of this long hot New Zealand summer there were few bees, in my garden or on the zigzag. After my parsley plantation finished flowering, every so often I saw a bumble bee or honey bee on a rosemary or lavender bush in the garden, or at the edge of the zigzag path on the thyme, growing well. But none on the alyssum, now vigorously self-seeding everywhere and flourishing in spite of little rain. This autumn, still quite warm, I see about one bee a week.

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Alyssum

This is much worse than last year. I don’t know what more I can do.

I also asked ‘Is it possible to maintain a useful garden without water?’ Out on the zigzag, where there’s no tap, I’ve experimented with hugelkultur, raised beds above buried wood, because they’re known to be good for plants and good in drought and flood, both more common than they used to be because of climate change.

And I’ve planted vegetables and small fruits among the the zigzag’s bee-loved flowers and  native plants and trees: ngaio, harakeke (flax), ti kouka (cabbage trees) and grasses.

I’ve found that in some parts of the zigzag and on some of the hugelkultur some plants flourish: tomatoes among the harakeke, bordoloi beans on a hugelkultur (but not the more common scarlet runner beans) hardy silver beet in some places but not others. On one problematic hugelkultur not even the borage and calendula bloomed strongly. There, and elsewhere in the home garden I’ve added more mulches; and  Environmental Fertiliser products. Will let you know how they go!

The best news is, that like friends throughout New Zealand I have a huge quince crop, the best for decades, another result of the dry weather, I believe.

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One of the quince pickings

This year I’ll continue to experiment, maintaining the bee-loved focus while working hard to produce more vegetables. We’re aware of water security here because of the earthquake risk and it’s time to consider future drought risk and food security, too. (I hear passersby on the zigzag discussing these possibilities as they admire – and critique – the trees and plants.)

This week because it’s rained recently I’ll start to clear the noxious weeds, transplant some self-seeded land cress and bury the freesia bulbs I’ve been given, for their scent in the spring.

flowers Veges
Self-sown land cress below some thyme and above the thyme, flourishing hollyhock plants, galangal and calendula, dock and dandelion

I’d love your stories and advice, if you’re engaged in similar projects. And in the meantime, off to the kitchen for the quince paste-making.

 

 

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#Bee-Loved Flowers (& Tomatoes!) in Almost-Winter

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After a cold night, it’s warm here now. I still harvest tomatoes, mostly Gardeners Delights from King’s Seeds, like someone down the road who shared the plants (thank you for this handful image, on Twitter in exactly the right week).

This morning in the garden I can’t see a single pollinator, but it’s a thrill to see the rapid spread of alyssum. It seems to be more highly scented at the moment, too.

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alyssum! & look at those healthy calendula leaves & flowers!

A single anise hyssop is flourishing now it’s no longer competing with tomato neighbours. It looks as though it may flower soon. Nearby, one of the Italian parsley plant patches, there for passersby.

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centre top, anise hyssop, plus nasturtium at left, some alyssum and (in front) that Italian parsley patch

The late-planted thyme’s flowering well in places.

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The dandelions are going from strength to strength now I’ve embraced them.

dandelion

In the back garden there’s a herb forest alongside the fruit trees. Some bergamot is still flowering (and seeding) among more parsley, borage, alyssum, lavender, vietnamese mint, the very last of the basil fino verde and anise basil. And those tomatoes.

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see the little mauve bergamot flowers?

On the front doorstep, some baby hollyhocks to flower next summer.

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And across the water, in Nelson, some travelling plants, in my mate’s garden near her flowering rosemary, New Zealand fern and late hydrangea.

Pip's garden

The borage shouldering out – as always. The calendula and alyssum going for it across the side. The parsley doing its best. The basil and coriander are probably over.

Squashing Bugs. Longing For A Spray.

bugs
haven’t been able to capture a clear image of the adult bug, gets lost in the greens

A couple of times a day, most days, I’m out there in my kitchen garden with a rubber glove on one hand, to collect the stink bugs with my ungloved hand and squash them with my rubber gloved hand, or sometimes within a nearby leaf.  I’m pretty certain the bugs are nezara viridula. I hate the squashing process. That little POP the bigger bugs make when I kill them. I long for a spray. Soapy water, someone suggested. In the past I’ve tried neem oil.

On the public zigzag, the tomato plants are bug-free. They’ve grown without water and I’ve wondered if this is because they’re surrounded by harakeke/flax. Are they also bug-free because of the flax?

going well on zigzag
volunteer plants from the neighbour’s compost heap ripen on the zigzag,  for passersby to eat

Some tomato plants in my kitchen garden are also bug-free. I can tell because the fruit doesn’t have the bug-sucked characteristics, the soggy-sh, woddy-ish outer layers. Perhaps because bergamot grows nearby, or they’re in better quality soil. But in a central patch the stink bugs in their various forms of development suck the juice from the outer layers of the tomatoes.

The bugs reproduce vigorously – the shiny black babies congregate around the tomato stems – and stay in ones or two until they become the mature plain green bug, viewed (by me) as a pair only when mating.

All the bugs seem to like the calendula seed heads where they’re easy-ish to pick off. But they also sense my intent, I think. Often, even when I carefully position myself to throw no shadow, they leap off before my hand arrives. Except when they’re babies, they’re especially sneaky on the tomatoes, skitter away from nearest point, often over the top of the tomato and around the back. or round the side to the back. Sometimes, if they’re on a leaf, they swing underneath it. And by the time I’ve repositioned myself they’re GONE.

A friend suggests these bugs reproduce according to the moon’s cycle. But I’m not waiting around to observe that closely. The tomatoes ripen within that one cycle and my focus is on them right now. And on my longing to spray, to machine gun those nezara viridula OUT OF THE GARDEN.

I’m going to build up the soil where the afflicted plants grow and see if there are fewer stink bugs in a year’s time, because the plants are stronger. (Or because I’ve killed so many bugs.) I don’t have to sell my tomatoes – or my beans, which the stink bugs destroyed last year – but I now have much more sympathy for those who grow plants for a living and use sprays, including neonics. I know more about the tensions between loving bees and ensuring the best productivity of plants that don’t need bees to fruit. As well as my own ability to kill, to protect  my food sources.

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Gardeners Delight, Black From Tula and one Cherokee Purple (top right), all perhaps with squashed bug residue.

Heat.

We need rain. Sunflowers have died in my garden, first time ever. About half, even though I’ve watered. And they’re wilting on one side of ‘my’ bit of the public zigzag garden, where I never water. Not so bad on the other side. Fingers crossed there will be some golden flowers quite soon.

sunflowers on northern side
zigzag sunflowers doing well in partial shade

I sowed beans to climb these sunflowers. I think birds ate most of the seeds. And/or beans may not co-habit well with sunflowers. But I now have three beans on a single plant (further up, the neighbouring zigzag garden has handfuls).

beans on sunflowers
two of the three bean pods

I’ll save these beans for next year’s seed.

A little patch of sorrel has survived, too. Some rain will help it expand.

sorrel with bird shit
sorrel with bird shit

And in the tomato thicket, bergamots are in flower. Some in my own garden too. But the bees haven’t found them yet.

tomato thicket

Not bad, without any watering at all? And the cocktail tomatoes are beginning to ripen.

ripe tomatoes
first tomatoes, from Megan’s compost heap volunteers

There’s lots of parsley, too. But the silver beet and the cape gooseberries (with its ripening fruit) are looking stressed.

And in my own garden, I have problems with my long-established fruit trees. I wonder whether climate change is part of this. For instance, the feijoa trees flowered very early (I removed the flowers) and have now flowered again.

Birds – for the second year in a row – are eating the immature apples. Are there shortages of their other food because of this hot weather?  Or more birds than usual? I love the tiny native birds: fantail/pīwakawaka and waxeye/ tauhou and sometimes grey warbler/ riroriro. They  dance along branches of the trees,  glean tiny bugs that I can’t see. I enjoy the exotics – blackbirds and thrushes – that go for the snails. But are they welcome to most of the apples, especially from the only tree that produces big crops? No. Nets next year.

The birds aren’t eating the pears. But – another worry – the  pears are much smaller than usual at the end of January.

pears

And so are the quinces. Same size for weeks.

quince

A big thank you to the bees that pollinated the trees. But now I have to consider how to protect the crop in other ways, next year.

Water & #Bee-Loved Plants on the Zigzag (1)

my watering cans
my watering cans

We’re in high summer. Here, south of the equator, that means day after day of gusts of warm and drying wind from the north. And, this year, lots of sunshine.

On the public zigzag, I don’t use a hose.  And won’t. Because I’m experimenting. Some of the experiments are about sun. I watch the arc of the sun and how that’s changed before and after solstice. Will the sunny spot where I have tomatoes provide six hours of sun a day right through the ripening period?

Some of it’s about plant choice. Natives. And as many bee-loved herbs as I can manage, to grow and self-seed in perpetuity, as a bee haven. Parsley and borage have already self-seeded here and there and  a  volunteer poppy is about to flower. To feed passersby, I’ve planted silver beet (very hardy), cape gooseberries (ditto) and tomatoes (because I like eating them too).

Some of the experiments are about water. Which plants will become more stressed than others, because they always need lots of water? (Or for other reasons.)

I want the zigzag gardens I care for to be self-sufficient, so they need only a big cleanup now and then.  So most of my planting’s been done with minimal ongoing plant support–into organic compost, and then an initial watering. Then mulch, or weed matting with mulch on top in some places. The single phacelia and some tiny parsley the only exceptions. On the less sunny side of the zigzag, where there’s lots of humus, I just popped the baby plants straight in.

I absolutely don’t want anyone to have to water out there. That’s why we started the two hugelkulturs. I liked the idea that it was possible – within a larger garden area – to establish individual gardens that don’t require irrigation or fertiliser.

So how are the plants doing during  these hot and windy days? To my surprise, among all that humus, and shaded by  trees, the plants on the less sunny side of the zigzag aren’t flourishing and appear to be  heat-stressed. Just as well the completed hugelkulturs will be there (eventually, everything takes a while).

on the dry side
on the dry side, with hugelkultur under development at top left

On the sunnier side, where harakeke (flax) surrounds them, plants are healthy, green and growing fast. I’m especially surprised that the tomatoes are flourishing without any added water.  Some now have fruit.

on the other side of the track

We put the hugelkulturs on the shady side of the zigzag  because that’s where there was wood to bury – the essential component of hugelkultur. It looks like we chose the right place.  (I’m still wondering how people establish hugelkulturs in a desert, where there’s no starter wood.)

Now I’m considering how to support the plants on that dry side. I refuse to drag the hose out there, on principle. Fingers crossed it will rain soon. Otherwise I’ll go to and fro with the big watering can. Anyway, will add more mulch.

Uprooting the Borage: A Bee-Loved Flower Experiment In An Overcrowded Garden

everything
cornflowers at upper left, larkspur below, calendula in middle, surrounded by courgettes, tomatoes and sunflowers

My garden is overflowing. Flowers and vegetables packed in. Still too few bees. And all of them bumbles.

with 2 phacelia and everything
silver beet, parsley, sorrel, calendula and two mauve phacelia in middle at top

More than ever, I regret my failure to transplant all the sunflowers to the zigzag. They’re now taking up far too much space and overshadowing tomatoes and herbs, the bee-loved plants that I hope will soon flower .

A couple of days ago I saw the borage and parsley growing and seeding like crazy and decided to make space by ripping out all the borages.

Two advantages. More space. And I could observe what (bumble) bees choose when borage isn’t immediately available.

No guilt involved– the borage is great in the weed bins and there are already tiny borage plants everywhere for the not-too-distant future.

And yes! The bees made for the other blue plants– larkspur and cornflowers.

bumble bee on larkspur
bumble bee on larkspur
cornflower
bumble bee on cornflower and yes! that’s a bergamot or hyssop in the foreground, still not flowering alas

I saw one briefly on the phacelia but didn’t have time to catch a pic.

my favorite, phacelia, again, among the tomatoes and awaiting a passing bee
my favorite, phacelia –again – among the tomatoes and silver beet and awaiting a passing bee

I even saw a bee among the nasturtiums.

nasturtium moment
nasturtium moment

Meanwhile, on the other side of the house the poppies are going for it.

poppies with 'fluff' – I need to learn some 'proper' names
poppies with ‘fluff’ – I need to learn some ‘proper’ names

And the bees love them. But I’ve noticed that once the fluffy bits around the seed head in the poppy centres disappear (often on the very day the poppy flowers– is it the wind, the bees, or just a normal rapid poppy change?) the bees avoid those poppies. The fluffy bits must carry the pollen. It makes sense.

fluff gone
fluff free poppy

 

The Bee-Loved Flowers Are Growing & So Are The Conversations

I had NO IDEA that growing beeloved flowers would stimulate so many conversations. Not always about bees.

On the zigzag the conversations are with passersby. Some I know. Some I don’t.  Sometimes I’m happy to chat. Sometimes I’m not.  And I loved it when a strong and chatty house guest dug a trench for me,  in a clayey zigzag spot, for the sunflowers which I should’ve transplanted weeks ago. You can see they’re not that happy, a week later. But today it’s raining steadily. That may help.

sunflowers on zigzag, with woollen weed mat (to be continued)

I left the rest of the group in my back garden where they flourish.

sunflowers & glimpse of Florence courgette flower on left
sunflowers & glimpse of Florence courgette flower on left

I loved it on the zigzag when an old acquaintance passed by and said he’d like a  parsley patch. So when the sunflowers were in, in front of them I planted a group of volunteer tomatoes a neighbour donated, some Black From Tula toms that I’d left far too long in their pots, some phacelia that the birds – or a cat frustrated by the netting on the backyard garden – immediately scratched up. And at the very front, next to the zigzag path, a little patch of small parsleys and a few calendulas.

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part of the parsley & calendula patch

I also have conversations with people who are growing tiny plants from here, at their place.

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I’ve lost track…

This picture came in a tweet, in a little group of tweets from one household–

I’ve lost track of what some of these plants are… Also, I tried three of the toms hanging from buckets but I didn’t get their roots in far enough so had to replant them more normally.

I looked at this herb, growing on a sunny windowsill I’m familiar with. It’s grown more quickly than most of my own herbs sown from the same seeds at the same time. But all their labels blew away when they were seedlings. What is it?

I know it’s not thyme. There are thyme, hyssop and bergamot babies in my garden. I sowed two kinds of bergamot, bergamot bee balm and bergamot lemon but they and the hyssop are new to me. Thyme’s the only one I’m sure of, by look and smell and taste.

Thyme and bergamot?
thyme (left) with bergamot or hyssop

Is that plant on the windowsill anise hyssop? Maybe.

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anise hyssop

Is it bergamot? Also maybe. See how it has serrated leaves too? Do you know what the plants on the windowsill are? Please feel free to let me know–

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bergamot

Like hyssop, bergamot is an aromatic perennial herb. It’s also thought to be a good companion to tomato plants. So I hope  those little plants in the sunny window are bergamot and will  join the now-flourishing tomato plants in my friends’ also-sunny garden. And that they will flower soon and feed many bees.

Via email, I have another conversation,  with my mate who identified shepherd’s purse on the zigzag. We swapped bean seeds last year. My bordoloi for her scarlet runners. And both are going great at her place.  She sent me some photos. A bordoloi already–

the first bordoloi
the first bordoloi

And lots of scarlet runner flowers.

scarlet runner flowers
scarlet runner flowers

I gave her a Florence ribbed courgette too. Like mine, it’s looking good. Well on the way.

Florence courgette
Florence courgette

And as for the bees, they’re regularly on this little path leading from my place to the zigzag, more bumbles than honey bees.

The red wheelbarrow
single wild sweet pea, dandelion, alyssum, giant pink Palestine stock, more alyssum, daisy or two, calendula, borage on the left, geranium, red wheelbarrow and lavender on the right

(I’ve learned now that bees stay away from geranium, so it’s a good plant to establish around places we want bees to avoid, like a child’s sandpit. I’m keeping mine here by the mailbox, as a courtesy towards the posties.)

AND, for the first time, I’ve  seen a (bumble) bee on the zigzag. It alighted on this forget-me-not, near the new tomato plants.

yay this random, volunteer, forget-me-not
yay this random volunteer forget-me-not

Tomatoes

small egg carton

It’s that time of year again. I’ve ordered the tomato seeds from King’s Seeds and sown them into egg cartons and cared for them at a sunny window. This year I have Black From Tula, Gardeners Delight and Cherokee Purple.

And just as the tomato seeds sprout, I get photos of my grandsons with their tomato harvest, on the other side of the world. Their tomatoes, like all tomatoes, self-pollinate. In Wellington we can rely on the wind to help, to shake the flowers. But bumblebees are also useful.

A big one.
James with a big one: 424 grams.
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James and Jake create 1 metre 30 cm of sliced tomato from the single tomato.