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  • Writer's pictureSimone Fougère

Summer of Loving The Lessons !

this Summer was SO disheartening...but thankfully also full of amazing lessons in the end, and a few beautiful surprises :)

back in Springtime (September/October here in New Zealand) we had many seedlings sprouting and ready to be planted out...

and then i decided to go on a fast...

i wanted to heal some ongoing injuries and niggles that just didn't seem to want to go intention was to be strong again, and heal them once and for all..there were over twenty niggles at last count

it was a one day to the next decision, but it felt like something (it seemed) i had prepared my whole life was a now or never moment...i asked giulio if he was ok with it, as i felt it was going to be a strong, deep and very intense period, that might go on for quite some time...he said he was ok with it

i was bang on though...after 3 days of fasting my intuition told me to STOP. i had reached the end of my reserves and the healing was beginning...the rest could fill an entire book, but to keep this part of the story short, it left me literally in a state of deep rest for 5 weeks. flat on my back in bed or at least lying around all day doing very little

all my energy was being directed inwards and i had nothing to go outwards

giulio had to do everything for me...nearly...also too for our evolving little homestead ~ animals, trees, seedlings, building, harvesting, food collection, cleaning, cooking...

but as it seems to be, we go through healing phases together, different styles, similar themes but same same in terms of intensity. thankfully though, he did at least have physical energy during this period

from building a 'whale' to accommodate our climbing melon and watermelon plantation

to creating climbers for all of our 15 varieties of tomatoes

digging trenches for our potato patch

fencing a new area for our three sisters (corn, beans and pumpkins)

planting banana pups

moving wood-chip around the place, piling up mounds full of compost and laying the water soaking system

tending to our coffee and tobacco plants

and then our 40 fruit trees ~ several of which fruited the first time this Summer ! peaches...figs...and lemons (all around a year and a half from planting them) and yellow raspberries ~ just 3 months after planting them :).

...what wonderful gifts from nature !

and our red strawberries a year after planting (white alpine straws still fruiting all year and inca berries growing wild)

oh and not to mention making sure the ducks (and ducklings) and chickens were fed and watered and the four cats too of course...

our sweet Anima...who has now been missing since the first of our many storms began in early November :(

Giulio was an absolute champion. a rock of humongous proportions

bearing in mind at the same time he was also listening to my daily ranting epiphanies, health updates and supporting my wild ride...

now because there was only one of him, and we plant during the moon cycles (root plants on full moon, above grounds on new moon) we missed one cycle, and had to wait another round. this put our plant babies back a month of spring sunshine and being in the interconnected world of earth before Summer hit ~ but funnily enough, in the end, Summer never did hit...

you may have heard we had a bit of rain in New Zealand...and we did

November....December....January (flash flooding perhaps with a dash of geo-engineered assistance)...February (cyclone Gabrielle with a bigger dash of geo-engineered encouragement as well)...and March (I'm now trying to remember). March was better, yes, the latter half was Summer finally ! April was more like Summer too...

for those who don't know, Summer in New Zealand is usually kind of December but definitely January, February and March.

and now in Autumnal May we're all over the place, small patches of sunshine, instant downpours, wind, sun, rain, who, knows anymore. but not cold interestingly.

so here are our lessons this Summer season :

#1 grow from seed in trays indoors, transplant into small pots and plant out Summer seedlings in as early Spring as possible to make the most of the Summer months

my friend had huge ears of corn by Christmas (having planted out his seedlings in early Spring (September here) and caught the sunshine hours of October), and our 40 corn that we planted out in early November got caught in the rain and barely saw the sun until March....we got very few little guys this year compared to last !

they were also in the wrong spot for sun when it did eventuate - but a better sheltered (less wind) spot than last year didn't matter with no sun

same happened with our tomatoes. out of 30 plants (as per lesson 2 below, too many to handle), after the big rain and wind (where they were located) of January/February we had 6 left standing with some green leaves left on top - with some attempting to flower even...

we ended up with a few handfuls of small misshapen tomatoes the entire Summer season. and of course because the plants were weakened by too much water, and lack of minerals (all washed away) the shield beetles (nature's cleaner-upperers) were out in full force sucking away

#2 grow only as many plants as you can take care of

last year, granted we did have much more Summer sunshine hours, but out of 5 melon plants we planted, we had 12 delicious melons ! i read recently you can get 5 melons off one seed/plan

after the last big rains / cyclone mid February, instead of having at least 20-30 ripening melons ready to eat we had 3 struggling to grow and vines that were pale green

so instead of planting 20 melons (with visions of living off melons all Summer) that needed far more attention in terms of watching the quantity of water available, soil depletion, enough mulching, pollination of female flowers and fixing climbing supports, plant 5

how did i work this out ? haha. not really rocket science looking back.

if i had only been looking after 5 plants, i would have taken more time with them, and been more investigative into why they were slow to grow after the rains even though we finally had a ton of sunshine.

for weeks on end they seemed to stagnate in vine and leaf growth, were not pollinating well (the baby melons kept shriveling up) even though i was hand pollinating them, and they had far more male flowers than female....

turns out that the January / February heavy rains had sunk them through their compost mound into the clay below and so they were literally just hanging in there, essentially in limbo

when i realised this is what had happened i whipped them out of the clay as quick as a flash, long roots and all, and piled them up, carefully laying the roots into some fresh compost and watered them well....but within days they had all keeled over and died...

i guess it was a bit much for them....they had left their lifeline of eco-system (strange that it was), and the watering of the mound was too little too late for them it seems :(

ho hum. so that was a good month and a half, actually two, of gently tending to sweet seedlings inside, planting them out, staking them regularly for 6 weeks...watching them getting drenched for two months....and then watching them stagnate in the sunshine for another month having no idea why.

so in the end after waiting a year in excitement for growing lots of melons this Summer we had 2 small ones, one that tasted amazing, one that was watery !

heart wrenching.

#3 grow in good soil or don't grow at all

i don't know how many times in gardening journey (especially in the beginning) i just thought as yeah, it'll be ok, they'll grow ! in soil a couple of centimetres deep above clay sometimes.

build the soil over and over again throughout the year with :

  • chopping and dropping weeds and grass

  • aged wood chip

  • new wood chip (if you've got 3-6 months before planting)

  • compost (homemade lasagna style, 3 mth cooked chicken poop or bokashi, or store bought)

  • mulch ~ anything to keep moisture in the ground below a plant (seaweed, wood chip, thick chunky plant fibers, straw, reed, chop and drop etc) ~ chopping up a bit speeds up the transition to soil

if you are still building the soil, plant in mounds on top using a mixture of potting mix and compost - either store bought or home made. monitor carefully if heavy rain occurs that the plant doesn't slide into the clay

nurture the soil everywhere surrounding your plants. everything is interconnected and if you leave the surrounding soil as is (ie. not disturbing it by digging it) but keep adding to it with above goodness, the plants can share old root systems/pathways to transport and receive nutrients.

grow plants in little holes filled with compost in a bed that can be surrounded by weeds. chop and drop the weeds of course to give light to your plants. i experimented with this and it actually worked super well this year with our leeks and cucumbers. the idea is as above, the plants can share old root systems. but you do need to keep chopping and dropping the surrounding 'weeds' throughout the growing of the other plants.

check out our cucumbers and leeks that were actually prolific before we had the relentless rain in January/February !

#4 if everything goes to kaka, start again ! (and...listen to your intuition)

after the second bout of intense rains/floods/wind in February (and no Summer in sight still) i felt pretty disheartened to see all our hard work of raising seedlings of tomatoes, watermelons, melons, cucumbers, lettuce, corn, peas, pumpkins, eggplant, peppers just disappear...only to be faced with lots and lots of kikuyu and weeds....everywhere !

actually that's not entirely true - the yellow peppers are still growing and have produced 3 fruit so far...albeit still green

....but also too, the oldest raspberries had amazing canes this year but never fruited, let alone flowered and the boysenberries were also a lost cause...they fruited beautifully, then dried out when the soaking system wasn't quite enough in a few days of harsh sun in December, then got drenched...

the feijoas flowered prolifically, but then never fruited. the birds didn't pollinate them I'm guessing..

butttttt, my intuition said, "start again, you have time - Summer is starting late and you still have near 3 months of growing ahead of you - half of February, March and April..."

i just didn't have the forces though. i weighed it up and decided to focus on fun, music, going on holiday and getting the soil stronger (and myself of course), building a greenhouse and all geared up to be more resilient for growing moving forward :)

my intuition was right though, i could have grown everything all over again - as many people on the island actually did - and are still reaping the benefits right now even

but i'm happy i decided not to though, as we had fun roadtrippin', and i certainly did not have full power physical energy still ~ I've actually only just discovered it again (since my October fast) just now in fact. and VERY happy about that too :)

#5 take care when building a lasagna compost to :

  • not include seedheads (as they may sprout later on)

  • not add clay (when adding soil)

  • chop pieces up - like carbon stalks (corn, oat, sunflowers etc) so it breaks down faster

  • cover if lots of rain

  • not use it if it's gluggy ! (which was part of the melon drowning issue)

  • build it fast (or don't let it drag on and on so some starts to decompose)

here are our 3 compost piles kept safe from deluges over the winter

#6 use wood-chip for building soil

this Summer we have been learning about the power of wood-chip. how within the branches (no larger than 7cm) and leaves of a tree are ALL the nutrients that plants need, in the right ratios...

throwing branches and leaves into a chipper for the fruit trees and veggie garden could well be the easy way to grow soil and mulch

what process to use ?

  1. chip it and let it rot down in a pile for 3-6 months (depending on the acidity of the plant you are chipping) before putting it in a growing veggie garden

  2. chip it and immediately put it around acid-loving plants like citrus, berries, tomatoes and other fruit trees. but dowse/muscle test each plant first ;)

  3. chip it and put it immediately on any beds you are not using straight away (like through the Winter months). we will be placing weed matting underneath it though as we just want to create soil throughout our veggie garden right now (as above, any greens or weeds that pop up later we will just chop and drop and we're still leaving everything as it is now - ie. pathways will be left)

#7 #trust the flow ! (Giulio's #1 lesson)

it's a good idea not to get too uptight about the plans you have, but to also take into consideration what nature is trying to tell you, and be flexible enough to change tack if needs be

we have moved some of our fruit trees several times as nature was showing us the spot wasn't working ~ the tree was not growing, losing leaves, not flowering, dying, getting blown about too much to name a few....

our banana tree was standing in the middle of the veggie garden getting wind-blown for most of the year, yet had grown strong and sturdy (even producing pups - that's baby banana plants around it), but never produced a bunch of bananas....we finally moved it (or rather Giulio dug it out and carried it like a Roman warrior) and it FLOWERED !!!

at first we thought it was a stalk that had broken after the cyclone...but upon closer inspection we realised we had a banana flower on our hands. look at this puppy !

we are now avidly awaiting the fattening-up process to happen (having just snipped off the flower at the end to encourage this). once fat we cut the bunch and it ripens shortly thereafter whilst hanging up somewhere

#8 nature does what nature needs to do

if only DOC would figure this out (DOC are one of the New Zealand goverment's pet projects for poison gravy-trains). poisoning the forests, beaches, mountains and the oceans and whatever else they can lay their 1080/brodificum etc etc on)

i diverge a little...

but yeah, it's simple. nature grows stuff when it needs to. even if it may seem 'invasive' - it's really just creating a base or layer that best benefits the future of the entire our observations on our little piece of garden fun it most certainly is also the case

where we cleared some land, and uncovered the top soil to clay, only specific plants initially grew, like thistles and manuka, and created depth and fibre into the clay, so as other plants could then grow a different aspect and layer of the newly creating soil.

we really need to get our dirty mitts off and OBSERVE more what is happening, then work with nature, and she works with us....

this whole new way of planting we've been trying (thanks to Kath Irvine), by chopping and dropping the so called 'weeds' and digging a small hole, placing compost within, then planting seedlings in the compost, is a very smart way of doing things.

  • less work to pull out weeds for a start

  • keeps moisture in

  • instant mulch surrounding with the chop and drop of weeds

  • the plants are stronger

  • more shelter

  • more nutrients

#9 build a greenhouse

it's been on our radar for over a year actually...we'd even stacked up several reclaimed glass windows and doors for the construction of it, collected some pallets and posts for the structure...Giulio had laid out the plan on the ground...but we just didn't quite get to it in time

and having a greenhouse truly would have saved the day for us this summer...although maybe...i'm sure there is a learning curve for using them productively too

for sure though it would have lessened the amount of drowning our crops had, protected them from the howling gail-force winds and kept them adequately heated throughout the moody weeks of downpours.

but, who knows, we may well have had humidity and fungus issues to deal with then...

anyways, going by the abundance that some of our friends experienced by having their newly constructed greenhouse up and ready by this rainy summer, it's a great option. especially when all we were harvesting in mid and late summer were potatoes, wild mesculin and a few leeks !

plus, it also extends the season both ways :0)

#10 bananas need sheltered spots ! ..but with water...and enough sun

having stuck it out right in the middle of our veggie patch for a year and a half, through gail force winter winds ~ even having pups come up around her ~ she just never seemed to want to produce any bananas (don't blame her now looking back)

...but one fine day, Giulio took all his strength and dug her up, tossed her on his back and moved her into a new home, sheltered, and around some new found friends. she flowered within 5 months....and actually, the bananas really loved the rain this Summer

#11 strawberries need some specific care

after planting late Summer prior, we had SO many strawberry plants by the time we got to Spring. I knew I should cut some of the runners, but in the end, I should have really cut them back A LOT more than I did...they were overcrowded and the fruit, although prolific, were very small ~ but delicious !

I could pick handfuls everyday from late October until mid January :)

a nice little trick i found was that they can be supported from getting wet and mushy from lying on the ground by encasing them in toilet paper rolls ! and this really worked well when the rain hit in November

#12 make sure you dry your potatoes out really well before you store them ;)

we planted potatoes in mid October ~ 3 different heritage varieties this time ~ Matariki, Moemoe and Whanaako Ngati Porou. all perfect types for what we like ~ twice cooking, roasting and chips !

and as for covering them with soil when the green shoots come up, we just didn't have the energy nor time to keep doing it, so we did get less than we could have when we harvested them in late February after all the rains

and although i did make sure to 'cure' them in the sunshine to dry them out before storing them, a couple of them snuck in and recently when unpacking them i did find one or two that were, well, a little bit squishy ! thankfully though, with the technique i chose to store them they didn't affect the other potatoes at all

so that's it !

i'm sure there were a ton more lessons, but as always, when you're creating within nature, watching her breathe ~ or him for that matter ~ and grow; you just can't help but communicate with the intelligence of what's going on.

magical is what it is. and it's my happy space.

and it certainly was my happy space when i was barely able to move, except to stumble down into the garden and surround myself with all that cuteness this Summer !

and to close this off, here's some of the cuteness we experienced this Summer

baby chicks !

qui, quo, qua

a tui snacking on flax flowers


lest i forget !

the most important part 😎

the completion and raising of the S.O.U.L. Thing flag !!

Uomo helping me paint my side

Giulio presenting his side

Cosa (Anima's sister) assisting in the practice run

it's a soul thing !

much love !

x simone and giulio

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