Missing My Mix

I planted my first vegetable seeds this weekend. I had planned on planting them last weekend, but when I looked at my garden notebook from previous years, I decided it was a few days too early. So I was doubly eager to get my hands dirty this weekend.

But when I opened one of the bags of growing mix I bought this week, I discovered it was thick with fungal hyphae. They’re saprophytic fungi, to be sure—not technically interested in eating live plants—but in that kind of quantity, they could easily overwhelm my seeds and seedlings. When I opened the second bag of mix, I found it was the same.

I looked at the mountain of seeds I intended to plant, then at the small quantity of growing mix I had left from last year. There was no way I had enough to plant everything. It was already past 1 PM on Saturday—the nearby stores would be closed for the weekend. To get more soil would require a 45 minute drive to the city. Yuck.

So I did triage. Some of the plants I start in August are summer crops that need a long time indoors to get growing (eggplants, peppers, cape gooseberries). These I planted today. Others are spring crops that can go out to the garden as soon as they’re big enough to survive the slugs, birds, and drying winds. Every year I’m in a race with those early crops. They’re always ready before I’ve prepared the garden beds for them. I left many of these for next week.

In the end, the lack of planting mix will probably mean a more pleasant, less stressful spring planting season for me. And if it goes well, I might look back at my garden notebook next August and learn a thing or two about pacing my planting.

A Look at Larvae

They’re just midges. If anyone pays attention to them at all, it’s to note how irritating they are when they swarm by the millions, here near Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere. They are annoying at times, swarms so thick you can’t breathe without sucking in a few.

But there are few adults flying at this time of year. Most are still waiting out the winter as larvae underwater. Midge larvae are fun to look at under the microscope, as their exoskeletons are clear, allowing a great view of the inner workings of their bodies.

Seeing the inside of an insect larva helps one appreciate the job a young larva is tasked with—eat. Eat as much as you can and grow as fast as you can. A larva is little more than a mobile digestive system. The brownish streak you can see running the length of this midge larva is the animal’s gut, filled with the algae and other debris it has eaten. At the tail end, you can see, this little larva is having a poo.

Also at the tail end is a wee snorkel of sorts. These midge larvae can survive in low-oxygen water by sucking air from the surface using their snorkel. The silver lines meandering the length of the body are trachea that carry oxygen to all the insect’s cells.

This midge larva was tiny—about two millimetres long—it still has a while to grow before it’s ready to become an adult. But there are lots of other larvae out there getting ready to emerge with the upcoming warm days of spring.

Food, Sleep, and a Good Scratch

I know it’s been a good day of writing when I suddenly realise it’s four o’clock, and I haven’t written a blog post for the day or prepared for tomorrow’s school programme or fed the animals, collected the eggs, filled the firewood box, gotten the mail…

Thankfully, I have an effective alarm to let me know when I’ve gotten too wrapped up in writing and need to stop.

“Maa…”

“Maa…”

“Maaaa…”

The goats are polite, but insistent. They like their afternoon feed, and let me know when it’s late. Animals are good for that. They don’t get caught up in things going on inside their heads. Life is clear and uncomplicated—food, sleep, a good scratch now and again.

Sometimes it’s important to be reminded of that.

Hedge Fortifications

Our usual route to town has been closed for the past couple of weeks, with the flooding of the Selwyn River. Instead of crossing at Coes Ford, we have to drive upstream and cross at the bridge on Leeston Road. It adds about five minutes to the daily commute, but it gives me an excuse to drive past one of my favourite hedges.

Hedges are important out here on the Canterbury Plains. Winds regularly hit 100 kph (62 mph). If the wind isn’t howling from the northwest bringing hot dry weather, it’s probably gusting from the south, carrying rain.

When we first moved into our house, I wasn’t happy about the tall hedge, no more than five metres from the south western wall, that blocks the view and the evening sun. Luckily, we moved in during winter, or we might have cut down the hedge before we fully understood why it was there. After the first screaming southerly storm, I knew that the only reason the house was habitable in winter was because of the hedge.

Hedges protect buildings, crops, and livestock, and most of them are meticulously maintained. The larger hedges are like fortifications, a dozen metres tall and two metres thick. They’re trimmed with strange-looking machines with huge, terrifying spinning blades.

One of my favourite hedges (the one I get to drive past when Coes Ford is closed) is the one in this picture. It is enormous, both in height and length, but I have never seen this hedge looking shaggy, as mine does when it’s in need of a trim. It is always trimmed like chiselled stone. And the marks of the great rotary trimmer blade leave a swirling pattern in the hedge that I find mesmerising. It is almost a work of art.

There are certainly more artistically trimmed hedges–I’ve seen a few clipped into undulating waves, or including graceful archways–but there’s something about this hedge that evokes stone castles. It is artistic in its clean lines and sheer bulk. It’s a hedge to aspire to.

 

Making the Most of It

August adventure day at Rakaia Gorge

August is always a month of frustration for me. On the one hand, I’m excited, because spring planting starts, and though the weather might not be the best, there is the promise of spring on its way.

But with the promise of spring on its way is the threat of winter being over. I look at the gardening tasks ahead, feeling overwhelmed and wanting to get cracking on them. But I look back at winter and feel I haven’t accomplished nearly enough while the cold weather lasted. All those sewing projects that I meant to get to, that extra writing I had hoped to do in the long dark evenings, the photographs I meant to print and put into the family photo album…August reminds me that the time for finishing indoor projects is running short.

It’s not that I didn’t do anything over winter. I was busy sewing, knitting, and writing. But there simply aren’t enough winter days for me to accomplish everything on the to-do list. When August comes round, I have to resign myself to not getting things done. I have to prioritise. That photo album? It’s been three years since I’ve put a picture in it. Looks like it’ll have to wait one more year. The jacket I wanted to make for myself will take backseat to the one my son has asked for–he needs it more. The pair of socks I started knitting last winter…well, I still have hope I’ll finish that project.

Half of me is ready for spring. Eager for warm sunny days to whip the garden into shape. The other half of me wants a succession of rainy weekends so I can finish all those winter projects.

The only reasonable thing I can do is make the most of whatever the weather gives me in August. If it rains, I’ll dive into the sewing with gusto. And as soon as the sun comes out, I’ll don gardening gloves and head outside. And if the weather is so fine, it begs for an adventure, I’ll leave everything on the to-do lists for another day.

Pre-planting Chore

The potting bench in better times…

I suddenly realised today that tomorrow is the first of August. That means just two weeks until I start planting seeds for the vegetable garden!

Two weeks! Woo hoo!

That unalloyed excitement lasted a whole ten minutes, until I stepped into the garden shed.

It’s a scene of utter destruction. All through the autumn and winter, I’ve been walking in, tossing something on (or in front of) the potting bench, and then walking out.

Yeah, yeah…I’ll deal with that later…

Well, later has come.

Later is now.

I have two weeks to whip the shed into shape, or I won’t be doing any planting on the 15th of the month.

I know what’s on next weekend’s to-do list.