We probably won’t be constructing any garden beds until we move, so it was a bonus to find that one already existed conveniently near the cottage, albeit partially submerged in a sea of grass…
Lettuce and spinach are crops we can try to grow over winter we thought (at least some frost tolerant variants), and since we don’t have a fridge yet it might be a good idea to have some fresh salad greens on hand. The winter solstice (which occurred this weekend) is the ideal time to plant garlic, too.
So on this drizzly morning we busted out our shiny new spades and went to town on the layer of turf blanketing the old bed. The soil here is perfectly friable – not a clump of clay as far as you can dig. It seems like you’d hit bedrock before any sign of the stuff. The soil’s not only loose and loamy, but the top twenty centimetres is dark and rich with ancient ash deposits. Not like what we’re used to in Auckland, where “topsoil” is really just a higher grade of clay. No surprise then when the spades cut almost effortlessly beneath the layer of sod.
Nevertheless we worked up a good sweat. After the turf layer had been removed we set to fluffing the soil to aerate and loosen it for planting.
We unearthed these odd tubers… Could they be partially decomposed kumara from a bygone age? They were tough old things and put up a fight. We think we got them all in the end, but we’ll no doubt discover by a stunted lettuce or two that some subterranean fugitives remain.
We have a suspicion that the soil type is quite acidic, so we biffed some lime into the mix to neutralise the pH as well as a few handfuls of good old blood-and-bone for nourishment. We also added a couple of bags of compost, which we must confess were store-bought. We have a ton of the stuff back at our garden in Auckland from our own food scraps, but no way to transport it down to the farm just yet (and yes, we will be – the stuff is too precious to leave behind). There is also actually a small pile of scraps starting to form in the bush just outside the cottage… we will have to build a compost bin soon.
After mixing the goodies through the parts of the bed we’d be planting, we wracked our brains on how we might go about making a support for the cloche fabric we’d brought to protect our young lettuce from the harsh frosts. We fiddled around for a bit before opting for lengths of plumbing pipe pushed onto thin stakes that we’d fashioned from sticks. The stakes were pushed deep into the ground to hold up the pipe lengths in multiple arches.
We tenderly planted the lettuce under the cloche frame and added some spinach as well. At the other end of the bed we made thirty-odd holes and dropped in cloves of garlic, whose shoots won’t be visible until spring and not ready for harvest until midsummer. We had intended to plant potato, too, but I had picked up some Agria which is a main crop; it’s too early in the season to sow. Maybe we’ll grab some early variety spuds and throw them in next time we’re down.
We tucked in the wee babies after a good watering and mulching, hoping for the best. We very rarely get frosts in the city, if ever, so we’re unsure of how your average garden crop fares over winters as frosty as those on our new farm. Trial and error will reveal all.