Sunday, November 15, 2009

Gala and Greenhouse

Its been a busy few weeks in this sleepy little place. Every year at Labour weekend, which falls on the last weekend of October in New Zealand, we have the distinct privilege of having the Matakana School Gala day. This is an event which has been held for many years, and has raised large sums of money for the school. This year the gala raised $47,000. While the money is important, as it goes towards improving the school for the benefit of the current and future generations of children, it is even more important as a coming together of the community, and in showing off our community to the region. Matakana is a country school with only 325 pupils, but very committed support from parents, staff and local businesses and the gala is an event that nearly everyone helps at or attends. In this ever more uncertain world, a good, supportive community is one of the factors that make life more secure and satisfying.

In the past we have supplied lots of bromeliads for the plant stall at the Gala, but have been unable to help on the weekend as we had our own bromeliad sale on that weekend, which was always a major event for our small business. This year, with the closing of our business I had no bromeliads to supply, but was able to give a hand on one of the stalls instead. Theo and Katelyn were old enough to go around the gala with their own money, which meant all of us had a good time. After trying to sell electrical equipment all morning I got down to the serious business, buying raffle tickets for the monster crayfish and schnappers. The crayfish got bigger as each one was put up for auction, but I didn't win even a small one.

Labour weekend is also the traditional date in New Zealand for planting out tomatoes and other cold sensitive crops. In theory, this is when the risk of frosts has passed, and soil temperatures are warm enough to promote good growth. However, New Zealand is a long and skinny country, that stretches over several degrees of latitude. With this comes quite a wide variation in temperatures. In warm gardens in the north, we can usually get away with planting out our tomatoes a couple of weeks before the end of October. Further south, crops can be lost to late frosts and planting too early can also check the growth through low soil temperatures. Planting too early is often a false economy, as the check in growth leaves the plants weaker and less productive for a major part of the season. Plants that are planted later will often overtake these early planted tomatoes.

Just to highlight the problem, this October was the coldest for many years, with lots of cold southerlies and even frost, hail and snow in the colder regions. Even in our subtropical garden the beans and capsicums refused to put on any growth, while the melons just gave up the ghost altogether.

Luckily we had already planted out our little greenhouse with some tomatoes, zucchini and beans. A greenhouse is essential for any serious home garden. In winter Angela gets hundreds of seedlings of all types of summer veges going for an early start to the season and we plant out the greenhouse beds with crops for early veges. The early ones are always the most precious and the most delicious.

The first of the tomatoes are already full size and about to show colour, we've been picking the beans and lebanese cucumbers for a couple of weeks and the zucchinis are in full swing. Check out these beans! This photo was taken at Labour Weekend, and already they're hitting the roof. The greenhouse is only an 8 by 12 foot, has no heating, and even has a pane or two missing, so its not all that flash, but before any of the crops were planted, I filled the beds with my favourite blend of 50% fresh compost and 50% peat soil, with a decent sprinkling of equal parts dolomite, potash and blood and bone. The growth has been stupendous as you can see. In a greenhouse, the soil gets depleted faster than outdoors and can build up diseases quicker, so good soil care is vital for good crops every year. Throughout the season I'll side dress with sheep pellets and worm wees, and over winter the soil will be replenished with a generous helping of fresh compost and more fertiliser.

After a fairly disastrous crop of eggplants last year, all of them have been planted out in the greenhouse. Eggplants, along with rock melons, are the most tropical of the crops we grow, and with their long growing season, they just don't produce enough outside to make them worth growing. In the greenhouse though, the growing season is extended a good month on either end, and daily temperatures over the summer are a few degrees higher, which makes all the difference. Already they're putting on good growth, so fingers crossed. Capsicums work better outdoors, but we've still planted some in the greenhouse too, to take advantage of the warmer conditions.

As I write this, we're exactly half way through November, and the weather doesn't seem that much warmer, with the same cold Southwesterlies coming through. However, still warm enough for the outdoor beans to get moving at last. Also just warm enough to get the net out and do some drag netting in the channel at low tide. One smallish flounder and half a dozen paddle crabs was the sum total of the catch, but at least it feels like summer is almost here.