Even though winter is not quite finished, now is the time when all gardeners begin preparing for the season ahead. Planting seeds into trays indoors until the frosts pass. We are actually very lucky that we have not had a bad frost in our garden. I think it is because we are situated on top of a hill and the frost all settles in the valley below us. My winter garden, which I moved to my upstairs balcony, is coming back nicely. I must admit it was quite a setback losing so much of my plants to hungry chooks so unexpectedly but that is one of the things we have to deal with here. My Broadbeans are flowering now, my Kale have grown back all of their curly leaves and the silverbeet and asian greens are flourishing. My 3 remaining spinach plants are finally showing signs of getting somewhere. this variety seems to take a little longer to grow than I am used to, although I have never grown spinach from seed before so I think it is just another lesson I have to learn in patience.
My 3 Sunflower plants are living outside on my balcony as well along with my potted herbs which were sent to me as cuttings. The sunflower heads are almost opened and it won't be long before they show their vibrant yellow flowers. I have also planted another 18 seeds into trays on my windowsill and they are already bursting out of the soil. I really can't get enough of how easy these plants are to grow and the rewards are amazing! The seeds I have just planted are an Heirloom variety that were sent to me from a lady in the south island so it will be exciting to see them grow. I am also experimenting with rock melon seeds and the first of my pumpkin seeds that I saved from my very first harvest only months ago. If the plants take off then I will plant them out into the paddock where they can grow to their hearts content.
In the next few weeks I will also be planting Heirloom varieties of Tomato. I am very excited to be able to try some new varieties this year rather than just the same ones that we used to get from the garden centre every year. I am going to plant Tom Poms, Cherokee Purple and of course cherry tomatoes which my two girls go crazy over. These little red jewels barely make it into the house, my children love them so much. Any chance they get they would be in my garden plucking fruit off the plants and eating them until they burst. And that is one of the main reasons why I love growing my own fruits and vegetables so much. It is a real joy being able to see our children enjoy the fruits of our labours and knowing it is benefitting them in every way.
In addition to the family favourites, we will also be planting seeds for peas, beans, cucumber, capsicum, and knowing me, just about anything I can fit in. I have a tray of Swift seed Potatoes that are bursting with new shoots and just begging to be planted but because my Red Rascals are still taking up the potato patch, I have decided to try grow these ones in potato bags on my balcony. Swift potatoes are a first early variety. They only take 60-90 days to develop so will be perfect for what I am attempting. I still can't guaruntee that my Red Rascal potatoes have survived the winter but I can say that I sneakily dug up a tiny corner of the patch and saw half a doxen small red globes popping up so I will leave them for a few more months (If I can wait that long) and see if they can pull through.
I am also looking forward to planting corn this year. Last season I converted the large chicken run at our last property into a garden and filled half of the 6x6 metre area with corn. They were almost waist height and the ears were just developing when the farmers cows broke in and ate everything. Needless to say we won't have that problem this year.
All in all, I am really looking forward to getting my hands stuck into the soil again!
Recently I decided to try my hand at drying my large Parsley patch that was threatening to run to seed. I'm glad I did because there is no way we could have used the whole plant in time even though we did try! I cut the whole plant back to the base and hung the bunches to dry in my hot water cupboard above the cylinder. I left it for about a week as I never seemed to find the time to tend to it but it actually did help to keep it dry even if it didn't get that crispy feeling that it is meant to.

Has it really been 3 weeks since my last post? Time has really flown lately as we have been kept busy with daily activities, preparing for the oncoming cold season. I have added some extra insulation to the chicken coops to make sure they are cosy and draught free over winter. Most of my chickens are taking a bit of a rest from egg laying at the moment so eggs are off the menu for a while. Unless on the odd occasion we make it to the farmers markets to buy some eggs off someone whose chickens are still laying.
Not much really happens around here over winter. The garden is just about bursting with new plants and seeds that I scattered from my expired lots just to see what would happen. I have doubts as to wether my Kale and Lettuce will bounce back - the big flock finally discovered my well hidden garden (or so I thought it was well hidden) and suddenly decided they had a craving for fresh greens. I guess they can't be blamed as most of their favourite bugs and greens are in short supply at them moment so they rely on us a lot more to keep them fed a healthy diet.
All we can really do with the garden this season is to tidy up any weeds that come up and to give the garden regular doses of Liquid Seaweed which will help give the vegies an immunity boost over winter.
We have had a lot of rain lately and some parts of the country are still in serious flood and it seems that other countries are also having alot of serious flooding too. It is times like this you learn to really respect and appreciate Mother Nature because she sure has a temper! Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the families who are struggling with these disasters right now and those who have lost their lives because of the floods no matter what country you may be in.
I will keep this post short and sweet as I am going to try and put up some new articles over the next few days - in between housework, animal chores, taking care of children and making my first attempt at sewing a red cape for my daughters dress up school disco next week. The theme is storybook characters so she is going as Little Red Riding Hood. I figured if I have to handmake something I better not make it too hard on myself as my sewing skills still need a bit of an improvement but a cape with a hood I think I could manage :-)
Well, after a week of constant internet problems, here's hoping I will be able to complete my progress blog!
Winter has definitely made itself noticed this past week. Temperatures have dropped, winter woollies are being pulled out of the bottom of the closets and heaters and fireplaces are being put to good use. Unfortunately, we don't have a fireplace but most houses I have lived in have not had fireplaces. We are lucky that our winters are considered mild to some other areas around the country. And we have a reliable gas heater! Snow is already falling in the south island and parts of the north island. We do get some icy cold nights where we live and so far our winter garden has handled it well.
Last week I planted out my little plot of garlic cloves which will eventually become roughly 3 dozen garlic bulbs. Traditionally, Garlic is planted on the shortest day of the year and harvested on the longest. I have recently learnt that if you plant your garlic out about a month before this date, you will give your bulbs a chance to develop bigger, healthier roots before winter sets in. This also means the bulbs will be bigger, hardier, and more disease resistant.

Today was a bit of a sad day. Our favourite little Pekin, Mickey Jr, passed away this morning. He had always been quite a sickly little guy. He caught a respiratory infection a few months ago and even though he was given antibiotics and recovered, I'm not sure that he was ever 100% healthy. Because he was quite sick he spent a lot of time inside in his "quarantine" cage and become a real charmer. He used to love sitting on my lap getting groomed and having cuddles.
I noticed a few days ago that he was starting to get a slight mucous build up in the corner of his eyes and in his throat, and today I noticed him sitting in the yard struggling to breathe after eating his breakfast. I noticed he had some food lodged so tried massaging his neck to help it down but he sadly didn't recover and made his journey to the big chicken coop in the sky to be with his dad. 

Yesterday was a fine day so I planted out our strawberries - with a little help from a four year old and some of our feathered friends. Pekins are the perfect breed to have if you have a lot of vegetable gardens and don't want to have fences around every one of them. Their feathered feet prevent them from scratching too far into the dirt and they are so small and lightweight that they barely make a dent on your garden. Two of the young boys even had a mock fight amongst the young Silverbeet plants and even after landing on a few, they caused no damage at all. They looked like little moving garden ornaments, picking their way delicately between the plants and scratching and eating up bugs. They didn't even bother to touch the vegies. I'm not completely fooled though. I know that once the fruit starts appearing in the garden I will have every bird in the nearby vicinity stopping in for a midday feast. I am going to start investing in a lot of bird netting so I can be prepared for hungry birds and chooks who can't resist the juicy red strawberries.

I have been thinking a lot lately about where I want our family to be heading sustainability-wise. Granted, it's not always easy if you don't always have the finances to back you up but I would like our family to at least have the knowledge of how to be self-sufficient and how to avoid chemical, pesticide ridden foods and medicines wherever possible. 

I do sometimes cringe at the thought of using plastic bottles, even though I am currently using some as seedling planters (Ironic I know) I would like to one day not have to use plastic at all just due to the negative effect that plastic has on the environment. Understandably, plastic is very hard to avoid these days as it is all around us and, in a way, I'm hoping that re-using certain safe (well safe compared to other grades of plastic anyway!) plastic bottles wherever possible will keep them out of landfills. However small the effort may be. I will be a lot happier when we can stop buying milk in plastic bottles altogether and have our own fresh milk daily straight from the cow or goat :-)
And by creating sustainable vegie gardens, we won't have to rely on supermarkets and produce stores so much. Also raising our own grass-fed beef and poultry would be one less thing to buy and we wouldn't have to worry about what was being injected into our food. 

As I mentioned earlier, I have never had much of a chance to grow a winter garden before so, this winter, I am going all out to see just what we can achieve on our little LSB in the coming cold months.
I already have two different varieties of Silverbeet in different stages. If I can't grow Silverbeet in a winter garden, there won't be much hope for me! But never fear, they are the hardiest of plants that anyone can grow all year round. I also have some baby mesclun leaves but am considering growing a different variety. I have my beans protected with frost cloth but as they are very frost tender I don't hold out much hope of them lasting the winter. I barely managed to save my Brassicas from being demolished by those nasty green caterpillars. We had a week of heavy rain which prevented me from checking them earlier but they are recovering well. I'm also glad to say my Potatoes are actually growing! I planned to leave them alone over the winter but I will give them a top up of compost soon to help them along.

Today I finally caught up on the weeding of our main garden which is going to (hopefully) grow most of our winter vegies. To the left is a photo I took when we first moved in. Below, is a photo I took today.

As you can tell, the garden had been badly neglected but after cleaning it up, I planted a Potato patch at the far end, cut back the Silverbeet that was already there to allow new healthy growth, planted some Brassicas, and laid down some black plastic in areas where I plan to put my next lot of seedlings. The black plastic is a temporary measure to keep the weeds suppressed and keep the soil from drying out. I don't think dry soil will be a problem now that we are finally out of a drought. The main problem is trying to control the weeds that have suddenly gone wild. after all of the rain.