Spring - where have you been all winter?

Spring - where have you been all winter?

Yay, it's spring ... and although the weather is still a bit crazy, we have a sense of excitement here on the farm because it's a time of change in the garden, with new crops to grow harvest and eat. We're big food lovers here, and this year we're growing all our favourites: baby coloured tomatoes, basil, thai basil, coloured and green zucchini, scallopini (my favourite), green beans, snow peas and lebanese cucumbers. Of course our year-round crops of lettuce, edible flowers, coriander and dill just keep rocking on.

The planning of in-ground summer crops is done, ordered seeds have arrived and most have been seeded, germinated and are now seedlings, tucked into the nursery cloche and pampered until they're big enough to go out into the no-dig garden beds. Because night air temperatures can still be cold, most of the summer seedlings are started out in our sunroom on a table. It feels funny to have gardening happening in the house, next to a couch, sleeping cat and drying washing ... but it's handy to be able to keep a close eye on the babies. Once they've germinated they go outside into the nursery cloche, under bird-net and plastic, which we open up each day if its warm and not raining. 

Most of the winter crops have finished in the garden, and the beds they occupied are covered with tarpaulins. Covering the beds kills off the old crops and any weed seeds. It protects our precious soil from the elements of drying wind and the rain which washes away nutrients in the soil. The worms in the soil love the darkness and do their magic. We leave the roots of the old crops in the beds, cutting the plants off just under the soil surface. The roots stay in the beds and become part of the soil web, creating underground networks, carrying food and nutrients for future plants.

The other night Daryn went outside to check something. When he came back he said that we had a bigger problem than the initial reason he went outside for. One of our animal troughs was leaking and water was flowing down the paddock and onto our driveway. On went the beanie and outside we went, phone torches lit, and we began rummaging through boxes of plumbing spare parts in the shed until Daryn found the part he needed. I held the lights while he got wet and made the fix. I stood and gazed up at all the stars up in the sky. The sky is so dark where we are, since we're away from any town or city. The trough was fixed, and it was a good reminder that even though our dam and water tanks are full from all the rain, it's going to be hot and possibly dry soon, so we'll have to keep an eye out for leaks.

We're working on a new salad garden mix and are growing a few new types of lettuce for it. Call us selfish but we usually decide to grow new things because it's what we feel like eating ourselves. It'll be a mix of sweet, buttery lettuce leaves of different shapes and textures and tender baby chard leaves. We're also trialling a new crop to put in the salad, Purslane. It's a wild plant (weed) that's delicious and highly nutritious. The leaves taste slightly citrusy and salty, with a peppery kick not unlike rocket, but with a juicier crunch to it. We're wanting to create a salad mix that tastes great and is quick to throw in a bowl for summer BBQ's. It'll be ready before Christmas.

During our first 2 years of in-ground gardening we had good success with most of our in-ground crops. But we've got to say the last 2 years have been a big challenge with too much rain at times, droughts and high wind events. Too much rain washes the food and nutrients out of the in-ground beds. It starts to feel like a wasteful way to grow when all of your good work in building up the soil is washed away. And when the soil is too dry, the plants can't access the nutrients in the soil. So we spend a lot of time and water to keep the soil moist. And some time despairing on the nutrients we've lost. 

It makes so much sense to extend our hydroponics. No nutrient or drop of water is wasted, the crops are protected from rain and wind. As our world weather systems change and more extreme weather events occur we'll be more resilient. And as we get older, the crops are up off the ground so our bodies are saved from all that bending and crouching that's need for the in-ground crops.

So we have begun building our 3rd hydroponic area. We're hoping the first couple of cloches of the new area will be finished by summer. Daryn is punching in the posts while the ground is soft enough, in summer it'll be too dry and hard. We slowly extend our infrastructure, materials are expensive, and sometimes there's not much extra time after routine gardening and harvesting jobs. Our hydroponic table design has evolved over time, and we've gotten smarter with ways to fit more plants in, and smarter with ways to keep out birds - who love our sweet lettuces and are very smart and adaptable little critters. 

Have you tried our Frilly lettuce? It's sweet and super crunchy, with a flavour like Cos and a crunch like iceburg - but has a frilly edge. It stays crunchy in hot situations (like in a burger) and will be the star of your sammie or sub. Our home-compostable bags keep it fresh for days, once you open the bag, secure the top with a rubber band or pop into a air tight container.

Harvesting now: Babyleaf with edible flowers, Frilly lettuce, Cos Lettuce, Dill, Coriander, Curly Kale, Brightlights Silverbeet, Radishes, Thyme, Sage, Oregano.

Coming up later in spring: Snow peas, new salad mix, green Zucchini, Basil.

Great news for North Shore and Hobsonville customers, The Artisan Hub (aka the cheese guy) at Catalina Bay Farmer's Market is setting up an online delivery service for Hobsonville. You'll be able to order a box of weekly staples from your favourite Catalina Bay Farmer's Market vendors (and us) for pick up or delivery in the Hobsonville area each Friday. The service will be live very soon so check it out ... it's called the Catalina Bay Farmer's Market Staple Box at www.theartisanhub.co.nz.

We're at Matakana Village Market on Saturdays. Pre-order by Thursday Midnight to pickup from our farm or from the Farmer's Market.

Our Stockists:
Matakana Smokehouse
The Superette, Omaha Beach
The Artisan Hub, Catalina Bay Farmer's Market
Homeland has our Babyleaf with edible flowers on it's menu