Diana Noonan is an award-winning writer who combines a life-long passion for food-gardening with a love of foreign places and international cuisine. She has published numerous books and articles on gardening and cooking for both adults and children. Diana lives in The Catlins with her illustrator-husband, Keith Olsen, their two donkeys, a small fleet of pet chooks, and more raised vegie beds that you can shake a stick at!
You can read more about Diana and her gardening adventures on her gardening 4 real blog.
How many times have you re-sown your parsnip seed this spring? Twice? Three times? Maybe even four! If you're still looking at an empty row where there should be little green leaves, don't despair. Germinating parsnip seed is traditionally regarded as being so difficult that a whole collection of mysterious advice has grown up around it. Some gardeners insist that seed be totally fresh. Others swear that running a kettle of boiling water along the seed once its in its drill (seed row) will do the trick.
Help! My dill is holding me to ransom! It knows I can't live without it (my addiction to Mediterranean cuisine means I require a large bunch of its foliage on a daily basis) and the plants are refusing to come up with the goods unless I expend more energy on them than I really have time for. The infuriating thing is that I thought dill would require very little care and attention. I mean, every garden book you go to is at pains to point out how undemanding herbs are. Well, not dill, trust me!
I have a lot of interests and, I'd have to say, weeding isn't one of them. It's not so much that it's tedious (I can do "tedious" when there's a point to it), but weeding is such a time-waster, and such a back-breaker, and so not necessary! If you want to scrub it off your "to do" list, follow the "smart-gardening" technique I've been enjoying for years.
Dear Tired, over-stretched lifestyle-blocker with too many lambs to crutch, too much hay to cut, too many kids home for the holidays, and a whole paddock of ragwort requiring spraying, Did you know that there's a delicious, completely undemanding, pretty-much-impossible-to-go-wrong-with vegetable out there just waiting for you to grow? Not only does it require very little of your time, but it also has infinite culinary potential and, better still, there's still time to sow it! In fact, there's almost no time at all that you can't throw its seed in the ground!
Every gardener has one – a motley collection of faded, tattered, half-used packets of seeds, with the contents all past (sometimes well past) their sow-by date. They clutter up the "anything" drawer, get more out-of-date by the year, and still we hold onto them! I put it down to that natural thriftiness that every serious gardener seems to have. That, and the fact that we're usually behind schedule when it comes time to sow, and not willing to chance the risk of old seed failing to germinate
You fed 'em, you loved 'em, you raised 'em right, and now they're about to leave you! We're not talking plants here, folks, we're talking kids! Because, in just another few weeks, we'll be saying goodbye to the tertiary-level members of our families as they head back to uni, polytech, art school, or that grim little flat they're holing up in while they finish their apprenticeship
My summer sown silverbeet is going to seed which is just as well as I now need that garden space for sowing Asian radishes. Japanese daikon is a favourite. Growing almost as long (and thick) as my arm, I call it the ‘cucumber of winter’, and space seeds well apart to give the plants plenty of room to develop
You can get away with not having a lot of infrastructure in a garden. It's not the end of the earth, for instance, if you don't have built-up beds or a bean fence. You'll survive without a tunnel house or a tool rack, or even a potting shed. But if you don't have paths, you've got problems.
Paths make life easy. They divide up the garden into undaunting, manageable sections which also help with crop-rotation.
I hate to talk about winter (or even Autumn) while we're still basking in sunshine, but we gardeners do have to plan ahead, especially when it comes to the yummier things in life. Because I'm not someone who can go for too long without a fresh salad, I'm already thinking about the chillier months of May-August when I absolutely refuse to pay out-of-season prices for tomatoes – or to buy those tasteless half-ripe things imported from Aussie! All of which means some serious lateral thinking.
I know you don't want to hear this, not while you're up to your elbows in tomato puree, but as one who is up to her elbows in courgettes, I feel I can say this with authority: unless you particularly want a major surfeit of garden produce, don't grow so much of any one vegetable!
This hard-learned lesson was imprinted on me when, many years ago, in the hey-day of my hippy-hood, I once had so many cabbages maturing at Christmas that I had to cart them round the local camping ground in a wheelbarrow, extolling the virtues of coleslaw and leaving them outside the tents and caravans of unsuspecting holiday makers!
You can never have enough compost, and that's a fact. However you can, from time to time, have too much compostable material, which is exactly the predicament I found myself in after Waitangi Weekend. Thanks to an overly damp spell (my euphemism for a rubbish summer!) which brought about rampant growth, and a holiday weekend where all my beach-house neighbours kindly donated me their lawn clippings, my compost bins were in "floweth-over" mode.
They're coming – in droves – creeping under the door, swinging through open windows, hanging off my jumper, and clinging to the cauliflowers that get brought in from the garden. Yes, it's spider time of year, that pre-autumn period when our eight legged friends feel the beginnings of a chill in the air and make a bee-line for the warmth of the house
If you're not careful, late autumn in the garden can get you down. With the arrival of cooler weather and shorter days, the super-energetic have a tendency to think that life as they know it has come to an end and won't return until next spring (and that's months away). Slackers, on the other hand, depressed that their dreamed-of garden never got off the ground, tell themselves they've failed (again). But I have another take on the situation because I see autumn as a challenge.
Last week, a rather well-heeled friend with a flair for design passed onto me her pre-loved copies of House and Garden. Looking through the gorgeous glossy pages at French and Italian country houses, I was reminded all over again of why I adore rural Europe and farm house kitchens festooned with fat plaits of garlic, strings of dried chillies, and bunches of golden shallots hanging above the Agar – it's all so deliciously romantic!
I once burned my finger by poking it into a compost pile. It was winter and the fermenting heap was in the middle of an allotment in the north of England. Apart from a few plumes of steam escaping from the top, it looked for all intents and purposes like a haystack. The chap whose pile it was seemed very pleased with himself and, burned finger aside, I have to admit I was impressed with his style
Have you any idea just how many spiders (large ones) are living under your floorboards? I do, because, like droves of other New Zealanders facing the approach of winter, I've been crawling around the foundations of my home installing under floor insulation to ward off the cold and to help minimise the expected increase in electricity consumption.
It's been a tough old summer for gardeners. For those in drought affected areas it's been difficult enough not having water to refresh the garden, but even harder to watch what will grow run to seed before maturing, a common event when plants become stressed. Whatever the cause of vegetables "bolting", be it overcrowding, under-feeding, dramatic ups and downs in temperature, or dryness, you can't help but feel down when you think of all that cultivation, soil-enriching, and hard-gathered mulch going to waste, not to mention the cost of seed.
Have you heard of Loani Prior? You must have. You know, Loani Prior the tea cosy lady – the Australian woman who's taken the knitting world by storm and lifted tea cosy creations to new heights. Her patterns are simply wild but the thing I love most about her is that, when it comes to passions, 'excess' just doesn't feature in her vocabulary
Thank goodness for wild blackberries – and for the long hot autumn that has kept them flowering and ripening for a month longer than usual. I can’t live without fresh berries in my morning muesli and late autumn is always a difficult time for finding my fix. Up until now, it’s been easy. Starting way back in late November, tayberries, that fascinating cross between a gooseberry and a blackcurrant, came on stream with a vengeance.
We take most brassicas (caulis, broccolis, and cabbage, especially) so much for granted that it's tempting to think they don't require any particular attention other than a standard garden bed enriched with animal manure, compost, and a scattering of lime. But, in fact, brassicas have a few special requirements, and they vary between different members of the family.
It's not often that I find myself wishing for a good hard frost but, this year, that's exactly the situation. It's all because of my yam crop and its (still) thriving, bushy, green foliage. I adore yams (not really yams, at all but, rather, a South American tuber known, variously, as oca, oka, Oxalis tuberosa, Oxalis yam, or Oxalis crenata).
If you're a spring onion devotee, as I am, it can be absolutely infuriating, when spring finally arrives, to find the supermarket shelves displaying bundles of long, fat, crisp spring onions at a ridiculous price, while your own are no more than seeds still in their packet. It can also seem kind of crazy to be sowing spring onion seed just as the world is going into hibernation but, believe it or not, that's what it takes to have those fresh green delicacies ready when you want them most.
If there was an award for the person least likely to be "in fashion", I would get it, so I'm always chuffed when I accidentally hit the jackpot. Last month it was with my hand-knitted socks (I hadn't even realised sock-knitting was in vogue as I've always done it purely for reasons of comfort and thrift).
I adore gardening – there's nothing I'd rather do more. Alas, like many others, I also have a day job, which is why it's so important that when I do get a spare hour or two in the garden, I don't waste it on peripheral tasks such as weeding (I mulch, instead) or edge trimming (I use raised beds and permanent paths).
Winter's well and truly here, and you're not alone when it comes to despairing over that nasty cold, damp, dank, slippery spot outside the house where the sun just never, ever shines. It's the sort of place where moss thrives and no amount of water blasting will ever quite get rid of the algae. If you have the misfortune to have this horrid spot occupy a rather public place (the main entrance to the house in my case) you'll be doubly despairing
Gardening's supposed to be relaxing. I must admit, although it's my number one interest and I adore it to the exclusion of almost everything else, I wouldn't exactly describe it that way. Perhaps that's because I'm "digging for victory" or, put in more contemporary language, "trying to live out of my vegetable garden", and that includes raising all my own seedlings.
The last thing I want to be accused of is being a garden snob but (and I'm afraid there is no easy way to say this) when it comes to things culinary, silver beet is not spinach. Of course, this fact in no way diminishes silver beet (which I am always the first to defend). Its hardiness means it is capable of providing year-round greens for both home and hen house, even in the coldest parts of the country, and its versatility in the kitchen (in a robust, hearty sort of way), is second to none.
Hip, hooray, we're past the shortest day, and with only a matter of weeks to go before sowing and planting can commence, I feel like a kid counting down the sleeps until Christmas. Much of this restlessness, of course, is due to my Kings Seeds parcel having arrived in the mail last week and, along with it, the seeds of my bright orange, purple, and neon-green cauliflowers!
Yikes! I've just spent a hundred dollars on vegetable seed. And I've still got my sugar snaps to part out for! Admittedly, I won't use all the seed, and if I store it carefully (wrapped in tin-foil and placed in an airtight container), a lot of what's left over will do next season, but still ... a hundred dollars!
I know Obama has fallen out of favour recently – what with Prism and all – but you do have to admire that initial campaign slogan of his – "Yes We Can!". It has that "we can overcome" ring to it, which is exactly the sort of battle cry you need to carry you into the spring, especially if your potential garden site is not – how shall I put this – "quite what you were hoping for".
Don't be surprised if your supermarket bill is frighteningly higher than usual this month – and next. This late winter-early spring period has traditionally been a lean time when it comes to finding food, which is why fresh produce reaches premium prices in the supermarket. Your own garden greens will have withered under the stress of cold temperatures, and your stores of potatoes, yams, kumara, pumpkins, and onions will be all but gone.
Last year, while travelling overland through Turkey to meet our son who was teaching in Georgia, my husband and I stopped for a couple of nights in the predominantly Kurdish town of Kars. Set on a high altitude steppe, a bit like something out of Mongolia, Kars is probably best known for its honey and cheese, but it was the cabbages that caught my eye. They were seriously enormous.
When it comes to cuisine, we don't do "bitter" very well in New Zealand, which may explain why chicories are so overlooked as a vegetable, here. I suspect that the other reason we know little about them is that they come in such a variety of forms, each with its own use, that it all gets a bit complicated and we tend to give up on them before we've even started.
My husband's father couldn't wait for the circus to visit. It parked in the racecourse across the road from his New Plymouth home and it was just a matter of hours before Grandpa was over there with his shovel and wheelbarrow – some of those elephants were very large and very, err, 'productive'. I know just how he felt.
Tried any supermarket carrots lately? Kind of slimy when you take them out of the bag, aren't they? Kind of makes you thing, "Hmm, what have these been washed in?" As for when they're going off after a few weeks (and why do they keep so long in a plastic bag?) there's a rather nasty mushiness about the decay that has me feeling nervous. So why not take the bull by the horns and grow your own?
I have a confession to make. When it comes to vegetable gardening, I have (until now, that is) been horribly Eurocentric. I have an Italian garden, a Greek garden, a French bed (sorrel, tarragon and that sort of thing) and the usual British staples such as leeks and turnips and beets. But when it comes to Asian vegetables, apart from an autumn sowing of daikon radish and a few Chinese cabbage and Bok choi, I haven't shown much enthusiasm.
There has been a great wailing and gnashing of teeth in our house this week, and all because of Parsley Bartowich or, rather, its absence. It's a new root crop which I spied in the catalogue of a seed company which shall remain nameless because I am so upset by them. You see, by the time I went to order the Parsley Bartowich, it was sold out and, what's more, wouldn't be available until next season. I cried when I heard.
With such an early start to spring, I'm about a month ahead in the garden. Brassica and silver beet seedlings are planted out, young spinach is up, the Chinese greens are strong, and the radishes are growing at a rate of knots. It should all look wonderful – it's just that I can't see any of it! That's because my entire garden is covered in plastic.
Celery loves water. I know because, when I was twelve years old, I absentmindedly left the garden tap turned on overnight and flooded the vegetable bed. The celery copped the brunt of it and, as a result, my stepfather swore it was the fattest, crispest, most flavoursome celery he'd ever grown! Besides which, every experienced gardener will tell you the same thing – celery does not like to dry out – never ever ever!
Fresh soy beans (edamame in Japanese) are so supremely delicious that I sometimes wish I had never discovered them, especially as they enjoy a greater degree of heat than I can easily supply in my South Otago garden. I first encountered edamame in a fusion-style Wellington restaurant when they were brought to the table in their still steaming, slightly hairy, lime green pods. When I tried one, I thought had died and gone to Heaven.
I don't know how anyone can manage without rosemary in their garden. I know I can't, and yet that's exactly the situation I've found myself in for the last three years, having lost one plant after another (and a decent sized rosemary isn't the cheapest to buy in a garden centre!). We use rosemary all the time in our house (and we don't even eat meat) which means that every time I want to cook with it, I have to run 700 metres down the road to my neighbour who has, to my on-going frustration, no trouble growing an entire hedge of the stuff!
Summertime, and the living is easy ... That's how the song goes, but as far as I'm concerned, summertime gardening can be a touch stressful, especially when we get a long spell of very warm weather and the seedlings, which I was certain would wait at least another three weeks before requiring transplanting, are suddenly sending roots through the bottom of their punnets!
I can never understand it when people say peas aren't worth growing or that they're a lot of work. I mean, why wouldn't you want them in your garden? They're one of the few sources of protein that you don't actually have to catch and butcher, and just half a bucket of fat pods is enough to produce three or four good helpings to serve with a meal.
I've been in seventh heaven this week. The days have been hot and sunny, the rain has kept away, and my garden is overflowing with produce. Everything seems so easy as I saunter out of the house, barefooted, with a basket and knife in my hand to gather salad ingredients, and cut the first of the courgettes.
I'm such a garden enthusiast that it never crosses my mind to think that my gorgeous vegetables may actually encounter problems enroute to becoming a meal. But this week, as I glanced out the window and noticed that the spring-onions and dill were looking a sickly shade of washed-out green, that the spinach was refusing to grow and was, instead, turning yellow around the edges, and that the leaves on the cauli seedlings I'd planted out a couple of weeks earlier were actually pink, I was horrified.
My garden and I share a dark secret – not one I'm proud of and, until yesterday, one from which I thought I could never escape. For the last 8 years, I've been cursed with club root. This unbelievably ghastly fungal disease affects brssicas and, as we all know, that means around 80 percent of all the vegetables in the garden – especially if you live in the south
I get so cross when I hear people spreading misinformation designed to make gardeners give up or, worse still, to deter would-be vege growers from ever starting their own plot. One particularly common piece of nonsense is that growing veges isn't cheap. " By the time you've paid for everything you need," say the spoilers, " you'd be better off buying what you want at the supermarket". How ridiculous!
My "zucchini" moment occurred in Italy, not in a romantic "Tuscan villa" as the travel cliché terms the experience we now all equate with that region, but in the low-ceilinged kitchen of a little summer house deep in the Tuscan hills. We were visiting a friend we had met in New Zealand many years before.
I've recently returned from the Leonard Cohen concert in Christchurch, and I'm still on a high! That 79 year old icon of pop-poetry still runs (and skips and dances) onto the stage, sings for a solid four hours, and has his audience crying out for more at the end of the show. Leonard may have been around forever, but we still can't get enough of him.
Just before Christmas, my neighbours delivered to me a bag of fresh white turnips. It was a particularly memorable gesture, not only because white turnips are so succulent and delicious, and I adore them drizzled with melted butter and smothered in ground black pepper, but also because they are one of the few vegetables with which I seldom have any success. I know exactly why this is and yet, frustratingly, year after year, I insist on making the same mistake.
I wonder how many of you out there are gazing at a mass of weeds where your vegetable garden should be? Perhaps the summer got all too busy and, despite your best intentions, there just wasn't enough time to tend the plot you so carefully sowed in spring. Or perhaps everything was going smoothly until you were suddenly overtaken by drought/ torrential rain/ white butterfly/ convolvulus/ the calves breaking down the fence/ the chickens scratching up your carrot seedlings/ the children demanding to be taken to the pool just as you were about to start thinning the beetroot ...
I was standing in my vegetable garden this week, completely befuddled as to where I could find a spare square metre to plant out my winter brassicas (yes, I know I shouldn't have raised 22 kale seedlings but there are so many interesting varieties nowadays) and bemoaning the fact that there wasn't a jot of space left for sowing the winter Daikon radishes or the new Watermelon variety I'd ordered from Kings Seeds.
In my early days of gardening, I made a few mistakes. Most were fairly minor and rectifiable, but there were one or two where I lived with the unfortunate results for a very long time. I'm talking about invasive plants – the sort that beginning gardeners, especially, are inclined to make a bee-line for because they usually come with the exciting tag: "easy to grow".
So wrote Gilbert White, the famous middle-class gardener whose kitchen garden diaries, written in the mid seventeen hundreds, were published in 1975, and give a detailed account of English gardening in this period.
I'm a self-confessed travelaholic whose pulse is set racing at the mere hint of a special-deal airfare – and all because of food gardens. My addiction to finding out what fruits and vegetables people grow in their own parts of the world, and how they go about it, has seen me hiking, cycling, hitch hiking and even climbing over forgotten passes to reach some pretty far flung parts of the world. And then there are the more accessible spots!
Greetings, fellow gardeners – from the big smoke! I've left garden and animals in the care of my husband for a few days (I hope he remembers to top-up the slug bait on the daikon radishes) and I'm having a ball, jogging round the streets, poking my nose over fences to gawp at backyard city gardens. Gosh, we have it lucky it the country.
It's been a long, cold, wet summer in my part of the world and, from what I've been reading in the paper, some of you have been battling equally difficult conditions in the opposite direction (too dry). I guess it all boils down to living in a fickle, maritime climate which is why, at this time of year, all many of us want to do (once the jam and chutney has been made) is put our feet up and take a long break.
If you're a follower of Lynda Hallinan's Sunday Star Times gardening column, you may have read, a few weeks back, of her disappointment with the discovery that kids and gardens don't go together quite as well as she once thought. In her childless years she confesses to having offered readers all sorts of encouraging advice to get their little ones out in the dirt – from growing sunflowers to sowing baby carrots.
I've lost count of the number of times some ugly and immoveable edifice has spoiled my otherwise attractive garden. I'm sure you've had the same experience – the tree stump that refuses to budge and which you know will take several years to rot away, the concrete pile you just can't knock down to ground level. How about that half-buried bath the previous land owner was using as a goldfish pond?
I imagine it's because my planting and sowing is confined to the glasshouse at this chilly time of the year that I'm always thinking about how to increase the indoor space I have available. It just such a waste to have a small glass-walled room filled with warmth and sunshine, and to be using only one horizontal surface – the ground!
When you enjoy gardening as much as I do, it's a rare thing to find yourself putting off routine outdoor tasks. Which is why, this week, when I found myself yet again looking for excuses to avoid cleaning up an overgrown raised bed at the bottom of the section, I knew it had to be something big that was standing in the way of activity.
Help! I think I'm turning into a "grumpy old woman", and it's all because of some very good news which arrived recently via the media. To be fair, it's not so much the fabulous announcement that we should all be eating seven rather than the previously recommended five-plus fruit and veg a day that's got me fuming (after all, we gardeners have known for years that the more fresh produce we can get the better), it's the associated hype that I can't take.
It's been a windy old week here in the south and for several nights, now, I've been woken by the pleasant sound of protein dropping onto the tin roof of our house. Thanks to the possum culling team working in our area this last year, our walnut tree has a bumper crop and is now happily delivering its fruit to the ground (or the roof!).
I'm not sure why I've reluctant to venture into the garden this week but I'm blaming the sudden arrival of cooler temperatures and the ever-beckoning warmth of the fire. Thank goodness for the gentle nudge into action which nature has given me on more than one occasion lately. The first came while I was leisurely gathering pinecones.
Gardeners are such individuals which is why no two gardens are the same. We all make plans and plant and sow for different reasons. Just the other day I was visiting a city friend who invited me to look in her vegetable garden. I managed to supress my surprise when I found myself peering out over a sea of long grass.
Good stories take time to tell and as I have it on the highest authority that this one is fit for a king, I hope you won't mind hearing it in installments! It begins a very long time ago when I first became aware that His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, was opening to the public his organic gardens at his Highgrove home, deep in the UK's Cotswolds.
The discovery that the tickets sent to the non existent Tewsksbury post office were unrecoverable sent me into a flurry of frantic and fruitless phone calls. Thank goodness for the staff at Highgrove who, when I contacted them, said that we should arrive, as planned, on the Sunday afternoon, carrying our New Zealand passports as identification. Replacement tickets, they assured us, would be waiting.
When a matter of security raises its head, Britain is not America. And, where trouble at Highgrove is concerned, that's just as well. My husband and I were strolling dreamily around what is quite possibly the most intimate of Highgrove's garden "rooms" when the first inkling that something was amiss began to surface. As we gazed in wonder at the neatly trimmed buxus hedges with their many alcoves displaying busts of the prince himself, our tour guide, dressed as you might expect, in long Driza-Bone riding coat and buckled green wellies, glanced over her shoulder as if she had heard something unexpected.
Don't you just love it when you discover a completely new use for a fruit or vegetable that's so totally familiar you've taken it for granted? In my student days, I once threw pine nuts and raisins into silver beet that I just couldn't face stir-fried (again) and my flatmates thought they'd died and gone to Heaven!
They're coming thick and fast – hitting the in-box, flooding the mailbox, blaring from the TV, and sprawling across the newspaper. Yes, it's that time of year again, when grey skies and chilly temperatures have every travel agent in the country advertising holidays to exotic, sun-drenched destinations.
An avid food gardener can get a little claustrophobic in London – at least that's what I find when I'm there for more than a few days, staying in my friend's third floor apartment in Crouch End. There's Kew Gardens, of course, and though it's a little out of town and built on a rather grandiose scale with few vegetables in sight, last time I visited I stumbled across a dozen or so domestic-sized allotments under the management of Kew's student gardeners, including one which was being cared for by a young Kiwi on a horticulture scholarship!