5 things: to plant this Autumn

5 things: to plant this Autumn

 

A few years ago, if you asked me, I would have said that once summer was over, my vegetable growing season was also over. But thankfully I have seen the light, and now my garden continues year round. Autumn is a great time to finish harvesting those summer crops, and also preparing for winter. There are many things that you can still plant in Autumn – especially in the warmer parts of NZ; like leafy greens, beans, brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower etc.), radishes, wintery herbs.

But here are my top 5 things right now to plant in your garden this Autumn:

  1. Spinach, silverbeet and kale – I’ve grouped these together because to me they are fairly similar in terms of the way that I grow them. They are very easy to grow and make great additions to curries, smoothies and as side dishes. They are packed full of yummy nutrients. Planting these in succession means you will have homegrown green veggies throughout winter. Just plant the seeds in good soil straight in the garden or in seed pots making sure to keep the soil nice and moist – and after a month to two months you will be able to start harvesting.
  2. Snow Peas – These are gorgeous to grow and so tasty to eat. They can be eaten raw or cooked and are ready to harvest around three months after being sown. Sow these straight into your garden – supporting their growth with a trellis for the tendrils to grow up. I like to assist my pea plants by tying them gently to the trellis with some garden twine.
  3. Pak Choi and other Chinese greens – I am obsessed with Pack Choi. I love adding it to chicken soups, noodle soups, wonton soups and stirfrys. It is seriously easy to grow these guys and they look impressive too. I pick as I go and only take a few leaves at a time – leaving the rest of the plant to keep growing. As with all leafy greens, the hardest part about growing them is keeping the slugs off them – so make sure to use a natural deterrent such as recycled coffee grounds or egg shells to keep your greens safe. After about a month to two months you will be able to start harvesting your Pak Choi.
  4. Beetroot – If you don’t like beetroot then I’m sorry but you are crazy. I recently discovered Chocolate Beetroot Cake, however I was already in love with beetroot after having enjoyed it in juices and roasted. If your only experience of beetroot is canned beetroot then you have been living a lie – make sure you try real beetroot because it is a million times better than the stuff you find in burgers from the takeaway store. Beetroot seeds should be sown straight into the garden and will start sprouting quickly but make sure you thin the beetroot so that they have room to grow. They will be ready for harvest within two months of planting and I like to plant beetroot in a few goes throughout autumnΒ so that I have fresh beetroot available all winter, however they will keep longer than two months in the ground. They are so tasty!
  5. Brussels sprouts – I may lose a few of you here, but Brussels sprouts are actually delicious. Just don’t boil the living daylights out of them and then you can actually enjoy them. Have you ever had steamed Brussels sprouts which have been finished off with a quick fry in some free-range bacon with all those yummy bacon fats. Because if you have, you will understand what I say when I say – Brussels sprouts are seriously good. Brussels sprouts I think are one of those plants that you have to see to believe how they grow, cos they look weird. As a kid I always just imagined they grew like cabbages, just really miniature. Luckily they don’t because how inefficient would that be?? Plant your Brussels sprouts seeds in seed trays and after about a month move the seedlings to your garden. After about 3 months from when the seeds were planted you should be able to harvest small, golf ball sized Brussels sprouts – and then cook them with bacon. Nom nom nom.

What are you favourites or must-haves for Autumn? Let me know in the comments section or hit me up on Instagram (@victoria.makes).

Happy Autumn gardening my Southern Hemisphere friends.

 

 

Egg Shells and Slugs

Egg Shells and Slugs

The problem with growing vegetables, is that we humans aren’t the only creatures that thinks the veggies are tasty. Unfortunately one of the creatures that often frequents my garden is the slimy, old slug. I don’t know about you, but I like to avoid using chemicals and nasty things in my garden if I can. So what can you do if you don’t want to use slug pellets but get stop slugs from eating your plants? Egg shells!! It is super, super easy too!

How to use egg shells to stop slugs from eating your plants:

What you need:

  • A garden with vegetables or delicious plants
  • Egg shells, washed and dried (I wash mine in warm water, and then leave them to air dry over night in a colander)

What to do:

  1. Smash up your egg shells into tiny pieces. It can hurt your fingers if you do it with your hands, so using a rolling pin, mortar and pestle, food processor or something alone those lines is a great idea. You don’t want the egg shells too small, and not too big either! About the size of an M&M or Skittle (thats a universal measurement right?)

2. Place the egg shells around the base of each plant, or if you have a lot, then sprinkle all over your soil.

Not only do the sharp edges of the shells stop the slugs or snails from making a meal out of your vegetables, the shells are also beneficial for your soil. Egg shells have a lot of calcium in them, and this is a great nutrient for plants such as tomatoes and cabbage. My great-uncle used to put a heap of milk powder in the hole he had dug for his tomatoes (calcium) so this same concept can be transferred to egg shells too! So even if you aren’t adding them to your garden to control slugs, you can chuck them in your compost bin – and they decompose quickly too.

If you often have an abundance of eggs shells, you can store the clean and dried eggs shells in a jar and save them up for a time when you need them

I have found that the eggs shells work for keeping the slugs off my garden, although you do need to keep sprinkling them over the garden as the rain can move them around. Let me know if egg shells work for you or if you have any clever, natural pest deterrents!

Growing Vegetables from Seeds

Growing Vegetables from Seeds

Growing vegetables from seeds is a super cost effective, and rewarding way to create your own garden. You have full control, right from the get go, of how your plants are nurtured. And it is so fun to watch your little guys start to sprout. It can be intimidating growing plants from seeds, but it totally doesn’t have to be, and it is really simple. There is something so amazing about eating fruit or vegetables from a plant that you know started as a small seed that you planted and helped nurture as it germinated and then started to grow!

How to grow your own vegetables from seeds

Things you will need:

  • Seeds (something in season)
  • Seed trays (preferably something biodegradable like egg cartons, lemon halves with the flesh removed, or jiffy trays like pictured)
  • Potting mix (I use a seed raising mix whichΒ specifically feed seeds and encourage germination, but you can use normal potting mix if you like)
  • A container (I use an empty ice-cream container)
  • Paper and a pen (for writing down what is planted where)
  • Water (to moisten the soil)
  • Gloves (to keep your hands clean-ish)

5 Easy Steps to Being A Master Seed Grower

1. Write down which seeds you are planting where, because if you are planting a few things, you wanna remember what you have planted! Keeping track of what you have planted makes it easier to also plan space and companion planting in your garden, rather than having a lucky dip!

2. Put some potting mix in the container, and mix a small amount of water in to the soil. Not too much, but just enough to make the soil slightly wet.

3. Fill your container about 3/4 of the way up with the moist soil and then place a seed gently on top the soil. If they are big seeds like pumpkin or squash seeds, I only do one seed, but if they are small like tomato seeds I will normally do a couple (just in case).

4. Sprinkle on top the seeds a little bit more of the moist soil. You really only need a very small layer of soil on top, as you want like sprouted seed to be able to break out of the soil and get to the sunlight.

5. Β Place the seed tray in a spot that gets good morning sunshine, as well as some shade in the hottest part of the day. This means that the seeds will grow well, and the soil won’t dry out. Make sure that you water the seeds everyday, but that the seed tray doesn’t flood, or that the water doesn’t pool, as this can damage the seed. I like to use a misting bottle to gently water the germinating seeds. If your seedlings start to grow mold on the soil, sprinkle a little cinnamon on top of the soil to help get rid of the mold, Β and if possible, move your seed tray somewhere with better air circulation (or place a fan nearby on a low setting).

If you follow these instructions, you should have some lovely little green plants starting to sprout after one or two weeks.Β It is still important to ensure they are getting morning sunshine, and adequate water. Once the seedlings are well established, and their true leaves have grown they can be transferred to the main garden (true leaves are the leaves that grow after the initially sprouted leaves – pictured below). If you did plant a couple of seeds per cell in your tray, once the true leaves have sprouted, cut one of the plants at the base of the stem, so you just have one seedling per tray as if you try to pull the sprout out you can damage the roots of both plants.

The Gardening Blues

I have a confession to make. A few months ago, we found out that at the height of our future vegetable harvest, that we would be moving house. And my first instinct was heartbreak knowing that after months of work and making my garden the way I wanted it, we would be leaving it. I actually cried.
The vegetable garden that essentially started it all would not be mine soon. Because of this, I made a decision to leave the garden, and focus on my kitchen garden on my patio. I couldn’t justify the investment of time and money if I couldn’t even reap the harvest.
But after making this decision, I decided to go ahead and plant the seedlings I had been growing, up in the big garden and also on our patio, and I would still enjoy the big garden while I had it.
But then again, reality hit me, and slowly but surely, I stopped watering the garden, I stopped weeding it, and I stopped going up there. It became a burden in my mind, knowing that whatever work I put in, I wouldn’t benefit from it in the way that I had wanted. The place that was once my paradise and sanctuary became a place that I just couldn’t make myself visit.
Its crazy how much I benefited from gardening in a way I didn’t actually know I did. Gardening in my garden became my safe haven and my get away from the craziness of my life, as I’m sure many other gardeners can relate too. And then this garden became something I was ashamed of. I didn’t want people to know that the girl who gardens, stopped gardening. And then I felt guilt that I let it happen.
Then I just gave up completely on gardening. Even the garden I walk past everyday on my patio. I just gave up. I couldn’t be bothered. My life caught up with me and I got so consumed in the busyness. And then I didn’t even think about it anymore. I didn’t even feel ashamed or guilty. I just didn’t even care.
But then I came home one day, and I saw it. It was there. Right there. Even though I had left it, and abandoned it. I hadn’t watered it or fed it. But it was there. A little, green tomato. On my patio. Somehow, against all the odds. It was there!
And I felt this immense joy and satisfaction because life is so persistent and it goes on. And even though I had given up on my plants, they were still tree and growing! That tiny, green tomato was like a beacon of hope. It reminded me that gardening isn’t just about the harvest, it’s about the whole journey. It’s about taking time to enjoy the garden and it’s beauty.
And now here’s where it gets crazy. I went back up to my garden that I hadn’t been to in months. It was so far gone and so crazy. Wasps had made a best in the rock wall behind the garden. Tomato plants had fallen over with big tomatoes attached as I hadn’t staked them. Lettuces had overgrown. There were dead plants everywhere. And at first I felt a pang of regret that I had let the garden become that way. But then I let it go. I appreciated what the garden had been like and all that I had felt up there. All the hours, all the sweat and occasionally blood.
Β 
I realized that The Cottage Veggie Garden isn’t one permanent garden. I’m not leaving it behind when I move house. The Cottage Veggie Garden is an idea. It’s a dream. It’s wherever I choose to plant, whether that’s in pots or in the ground.Β 

Β 

And strangely enough the beauty in the overgrowth of my two gardens has made me want to get back into the garden. And that one small, green tomato, I want to see it become big, red and juicy.

Composting

Composting the garden is something that all gardeners do at some stage. however, making your own compost is something that many people steer clear of. Not because it is difficult or hard to do, but more that it takes patience and a little bit of a recipe. Composting is such a key part of gardening. It is so cool, and so important to return back to the garden, what has come from the garden. Its kinda like the circle of gardening life! If you need any more convincing about why you should compost then think about things like you’re recycling, you’re putting back into the earth what your plants have eaten up (nutrients), its free (once you have a container), it is rewarding and the thing that makes me so convinced composting is a good idea, is that you know exactly what is going into your garden! You decide what chemicals are going into your food, and I like to choose no chemicals! So I see composting as a win-win for all parties involved (me, the garden and my family).
Composting the garden is so important! Adding nutrients back into the soil is essential!
So how do you compost?! Well you have probably all seen the classic composting bins. The big, black plastic things? I have one of those! I didn’t buy it, but it was just left at our property and had been used as a rubbish bin. Yummy. Not! So I converted this back into a compost bin. You can go out and buy one of these bins to make your compost in, or you can make your own compost bin, simply by creating four waist height walls to make a little box. This can be made out of recycled wood, corrugated iron, or anything else that you can think of that will make your very own compost bin. Just make sure that you will be able to manage the compost, as you will be turning it. Make sure that your compost bin is on bare earth, or straight on soil, as this way, the compost ingredients will be able to break down.
My compost bin!
Now you know what you can compost in, you need to know exactly what you can and CAN’T compost. As often this is what trips some people up.
There are two essential ingredients to compost and you want to balance these 50/50. Green ingredients and brown ingredients. Or nitrogen and carbon. Or kitchen or garden ingredients. Simple? Still kinda confusing huh?
But I’ll make it easier to understand, as once you know, its so easy!
Brown ingredients, or kitchen ingredients include things like:
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Egg shells
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags
  • Egg cartons
  • Shredded toilet paper rolls or cardboard that does not have any ink or dye in them
You can collect these “ingredients” in a bucket with a lid that you keep in your kitchen, until the the bucket is full. The lid is super important as this helps stop the stink.
Green ingredients, or garden ingredients!
The second part of composting is,
Green ingredients, or garden ingredients and this includes things such as:
  • Lawn clippings
  • Weeds that haven’t flowered
  • Any plants that have been thinned out when sown in groups
  • Dead leaves
  • Wood chips and saw dust from untreated timber
  • Seaweed
  • Pruned leaves
Other things that can be added, but aren’t essential are:
  • Manure (cow, horse, sheep, chicken)
  • Garden lime (limestone)
  • Drier lint (natural fibres preferably)
  • Soil
But don’t include:
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Cheese
  • Bones
  • Dog or cat waste (as there can be worms)
These will attract rats or other nasty things to your compost due to the smell, or won’t break down as quickly as the other ingredients.
Unfortunately, composting isn’t as simple as chucking everything in a bin and hoping it’ll decompose. There are a few tricks that are super easy to learn though, that will ensure your compost works well!
So here are my simple steps to creating your compost:
1. Ensure your compost bin is in the place that you want it to be (a sunny spot, but away from a living area because it may smell a little)
2. If you have any sticks or straw, lay this down first, as it will help with air circulation and drainage.
3. Try to alternate layers of green and brown, or kitchen and garden. As this will help with moisture control. However, if you aren’t adding enough to create a “layer”, just make sure that you are adding roughly 50/50 of each type of ingredient at each time.
4. Keep the compost moist. Rain will help to do this, but if it doesn’t rain, you may want to give it a bit of water. Just keep an eye on the moisture content as you don’t want it to get dry.
5. Keep your compost covered. This will help to keep the moisture in, and prevent it from getting tooΒ wet. If you have a compost bin like I do, the lid is perfect, however if you have made your own compost bin, using a sheet of roofing iron, or a tarpaulin, or even old carpet would work!
6. The final important tip is turn your compost! This really helps to encourage the compost to break down as it mixes everything together and exposes oxygen to the compost. And oxygen is super important in helping the compost to break down. This only needs to be done every week, but you can turn it more if you would like. Its such a good work out! And sometimes I get my hubby to do it as my arms get too tired! Hehe (:
Turn the compost once a week to expose the ingredients to oxygen
In six to eight weeksΒ you should have a beautiful compost that can be added back into the garden! You might find worms in your compost and this is a good thing! It shows that your compost is nutritious!
Just give composting a go! Please! Once you start you will find it so simple and easy to do! If you have any questions just ask away (:
Happy composting!!!

My "Making Use of a Small Space" Garden

You’re not always going to be able to live at a house that has land for you to establish your vegetable garden presence. So sometimes you just have to get creative, and use whatever space you can. Although I do have space for a vegetable garden, I do also have my patio/kitchen garden that I love.
I love it because I can look at it all the time if I want. I can easily pop out and get some vegetables, pick a couple of herbs to add to dinner, or even just easily water and tend it (as my main veggie garden is up a little hill). There is something so beautiful and creative about turning any little space you have into a garden.
Have you heard of Guerilla Gardening?Β Google it. But basically, do it to your own place.
And I have some handy little tips to help you turn whatever dull, small, empty space into a thriving GARDEN.
Tip #1
Try to get some sunshine, (or light and warmth) onto your precious babies. This will help them to be the plants you dream they could be. Without getting technical, pretty much all plants need some light and warmth, so if you don’t have the real stuff, then fake it some how!
Tip #2
Use whatever you can to plant in. This isn’t really a tip, but I’m pretty much saying, you can make everything uniform in matching pots (very pretty), or you can mix and match whatever you have and whatever you can AFFORD. You may have heard the fancy term “repurposing”. Its very fashionable and you can do it! I use mixes of old planter boxes, big plastic pots, little pots that some seedlings came in, as well as glass jars, little buckets, empty soup cans. You name it. If you can put soil in it, you can grow something in it. Go wild. And have fun. Just make sure there is some drainage (holes in the bottom).
Tip #3
Nourish your plants. As you will be planting in boxes or pots, your plants don’t have the opportunity to gather nutrients from the surrounding soil as much as their counterparts out in the big wide world of the ground. This nourishment factor is so easy to over look, as we are so used to house plants, that you just water and leave, then water every so often. But your vegetables need your love. When you are planting your plants, use a really good quality organic soil or compost. As this will be the foundation for your plants long and healthy life. And make sure that they are being watered adequately, as often water can drain straight out the bottom of the plant, and not reach all the soil it needs to. And this leads to the next tip…
Β 
Tip #4
Feed your plants! Plant food, compost, whatever you want! BUT JUST FEED YOUR PLANTS! There isn’t a lot of soil in those pots, and the plants need a lot of nutrients to grow! I like to use and organic (liquid) plant food, that I treat my plants to every one or two weeks depending on how well they are growing, or what they are (heavy fruiting plants need more than leafy plants). I grow strawberries on my patio, and I make sure that they get strawberry food (its a real thing!), as this helps them to grow, even in the small pots.
Tip #5
Plant things that you wouldn’t plant in your big garden. For example, in my kitchen garden, I grow wheatgrass, because it works better in a tray, and its good for it to be nice and easy on hand. Get creative and think outside the (planter) box.
Tip #6
Plant “cut and come again” plants. These are plants that you literally take a couple of leaves off, and then you can come back to them again later and take a few more leaves off. You don’t have to harvest the whole thing at once. In my small garden, I like to plant lettuces, spinach, kale and swiss chard, as they are fast growing, but they are also very handy and useful plants in terms of eating.
Tip #7
Have a few flowers in your small potted garden. Having some flowers will help to attract the good bugs, and may even help to keep the bad ones away (depending on what you plant). It is very important to make sure that your little garden (or big) is getting pollinated, and if no bees do it, make sure that you do it for the plant (depending on what plant it is!) because that is important in the growing stage for some plants!
Tip #8
Move your plants around. For two reasons. The first reason is to create companion planting. Putting some plants next to others is a good thing (for example tomatoes and basil), they enhance one anothers flavour while growing, whereas putting tomato and cabbage next to one another is bad and stunts growth. So move those babies around to get the best possible growing happening. Secondly, move them around to get the best sunshine for the plant. If you are like me, your planting area isn’t in the sun all the time, so move those babies around a couple of days a week so that they can soak up some nice rays. They will thank you for it in beautiful vegetables.
Tip #9
Start small, and increase. You don’t need to have 50 pots of varying varieties of vegetables the first day of your garden. I started with two pots, and slowly but surely I kept adding and collecting, and now I have many random containers, and some random plants. If you start small, its easier for you to manage, and make sure that those vegetables are getting the love they deserve. Add a few more to your collection every couple of weeks or so. This leads to the final tip…
Tip #10
You can increase the container size if you want. Say you planted a tomato plant in a small pot, but now it seems that it is just getting too big for that pot, well never fear, buy a slightly bigger (or much bigger if you are super keen) container, and just move your little friend into a bigger home. Plants will only grow until their roots can’t grow no more, so the bigger the space for roots, the bigger your plant will be. And once you’ve moved that plant into a bigger container, you have a spare container to start something else in. Its like the circle of life. Only different.
But most importantly HAVE FUN!! And remember, you are only limited by your imagination, so get out there are get creating your own little piece of vegetable paradise.

Growing Swiss Chard or Silverbeet

Swiss Chard. Silverbeet. Tomaytoe. Tamato. Same thing. Different name. But no matter what you call it, there is no doubt that this beautiful green leafy plant is so delicious, and so easy to grow.
My Good Old Fashioned Swiss Chard and Β also the Bright lights variety!
And here at The Cottage Veggie Garden, I will show you how easy it is to grow!
But first, what do you know about Swiss Chard?
Swiss Chard is high in vitamins K, C, and A. These are vitamins that your body needs in order to stay healthy and strong. It is similar to KaleΒ in that regard! Swiss Chard is also high in magnesium, iron, potassium and fibre. Keeping your iron levels up is important, and having a good daily intake of fibre is important, and most people know both of these things. But the benefits of magnesium and potassium aren’t that well known. Having good levels of magnesium in the diet is important for your heart as well as blood pressure, AND its also good for your bones, and keeping them strong. And potassium is also good for your heart. A diet rich in potassium can help to reduce anxiety and depression, as well as help to enhance muscle strength and maintaining water balance in the body (certain cells need a certain amount of water to function).
Swiss Chard is absolutely good for you! And having your own personal supply will surely benefit both your taste buds and your body.
So now lets talk about how to grow it!
Growing time:
All in all, Swiss Chard takes about 7 – 12 weeks to grow, however you can start eating as soon as you like (you may like the little baby leaves).
When to grow Swiss Chard:
Swiss Chard can grow anytime of year – EXCEPT FOR THE COLD WINTER MONTHS!!
Planting the seeds:
It is so easy to grow from a seed. No kidding. Just plant the seed exactly where you want the plant to be (Swiss Chard doesn’t really do well when transplanted). Plant it in good quality soil, in a spot that gets some good sunshine during the day, but also gets a little bit of shade.
Sow a couple of seeds per hole, and plant them 1cm deep, and leave 15 – 30 cm (6 – 12 inches) gap in between the plants so that when they grow, they have room to expand and spread their beautiful leaves. Ensure that during the germination period (when they are seeds in the ground), that they are being watered well, as this will help to create the perfect environment for them to sprout.
Once they have started to sprout, they will look like this:
Caring for your plant:
These ones have pink stems as they are the bright lights variety, and obviously if you are growing normal Swiss Chard, the stems will be a creamy white colour. It is very important to keep watering them at this stage, as with all leafy greens. Once they get to the stage below, you can thin out the plants (remember you planted a couple of seeds per hole?). This way the plants will have plenty of room to grow.
Pest control:
This beautiful leafy green can be quite susceptible to slugs, ESPECIALLY while it is little. So make sure you either have preventative measures in place, or just some plan of how to get the little sluggies who want the Swiss Chard all to themselves. And you may find some little bugs snuggled up inside the curls of the leaves, so give them a very good wash before you eat them, as you may find a hidden little grub!
Harvesting:
The fabulous thing about Swiss Chard is that it is whats a called a “cut and come again” plant. Meaning, you can take a couple of leaves off and then come back again later when you need some more. The whole plant doesn’t need to be picked all at once.
How to enjoy:
Enjoy your Swiss Chard chopped roughly and then wilted in a pan with a drop of water and a dash of nutmeg, or add it to quiches and vegetarian dishes! Absolutely delicious!!!