Category Archives: Garden Notes

Too Many Grapes – Never Enough Tomatoes

Garden Gone Wild

rose_02
A very special rose. This gift from a friend holds the memory of someone taken much too soon.

Record rainfall followed by hot sun

After a late summer of seemingly endless blue skies, South Head received an unseasonal 124 mls of rain between 08 and 14 March. On the first soggy day we were grateful as the water tank was getting low, but by the end of the second day the novelty had worn off. The rain followed by sun has turned the vegetable garden into a jungle through which I can barely navigate.

A carpet of green

kumara
A tangle of kūmara, melon and squash.

In early November, we planted three rows of kūmara tupu. ‘Tupu’ are the rooted shoots that grow on a kūmara tuber. The vines are very vigorous  and are spreading all over the garden. I’m very excited about this. We’ve had mixed success with potatoes and I’d much prefer to grow kūmara if possible. We’ll have to wait until the leaves start to die down before seeing what’s hidden in the soil. This could be any time from the end of March onward and looking at our plants I suspect it’ll be more like April.

After harvest (assuming there is actually something growing underneath all those leaves) we’ll set the best aside to start a new crop next October.

veges 02
Left to right: Basil jostling with carrots; okra; rhubarb; kale and silver beet (chard, to those of you from the northern hemisphere).

Our one surviving rhubarb plant is gigantic. The stalks are fat and juicy and despite baking them into Rhubarb Tarte Tartin and adding them to cereals and desserts, many will go to waste. We also have more than we can eat of basil and silver beet, and I’m curious to see how the okra turns out. Growing okra is another ‘first’ for me, and in my ignorance, I allowed some pods to grow too long, so have cut them all off and am hoping that more will be produced before it gets cooler.

veges 03
Left to right: Limes; habanero peppers; ‘Big Chief Butternut’ squash; bell peppers.

Continuing with the green theme, it looks like we’ll beat our record for limes as both trees are very well-endowed this year and also have a decent crop of new flowers. My favourite chile pepper, Habanero, is looking very fine, with each of the plants laden with flowers and young fruit. I also sowed a handful of seeds for a different squash, ‘Big Chief Butternut’, which apparently grows to 2 – 3 kg. And it is HUGE. And the capsicum (bell pepper) plants have become so large that we’ve had to support them with sturdy wooden stakes.

Zucchinis and tomatoes

This summer we’ve had the heaviest crop of both zucchinis and tomatoes since living at South Head, with green beans, coming a close third.

cleome and worms
Left to right: Pretty Cleome spinosa (Spider flower); a tomato fruitworm tucking into a green tomato; the disturbing sight of a grub inside a tomato; same grub after removal.

Scattered around the vegetable garden are self-sown Cleome. I planted a half dozen a few years back to attract green vegetable bugs and the Tomato Fruitworm, Helicoverpa armigera ssp. conferta. The Cleome attract both insects really well, but there haven’t been so many green vegetable bugs this year, and I’ve been picking off the damaged tomatoes when I come across them. The hens like drawing the fat green caterpillars out. I must admit that when I overlook one, and the tomato goes rotten from the inside, I can’t bear to look at them, let alone touch them. All that ‘goopy’ decay turns my stomach.

I’ve been freezing tomatoes in 400 gram packs for use over winter; the neat thing about outside-grown tomatoes is that they are easy to peel, which saves time later. And I’ve also bottled a batch of tomato sauce. I’ve used the zucchini for pickles and we’re eating them every other day. My favourite recipe is to slice them thickly before sautéing them with mashed garlic in a little olive oil. At the last moment, to throw in a few sage leaves. Because the Costasta romanesco variety of zucchini isn’t at all watery, the sage leaves quickly go crispy and add a delicious flavour.

And still there’s more…

There are some vegetables I haven’t really bothered with… lettuces, for example. We rarely get around to eating them and while I do have a row growing and gradually aging right now, there are several earlier plants that I’ve let go to seed; the fuzzy down drifts around the garden with the slightest breeze. Lettuces are unlikely to become a problem if they sprout everywhere… I allowed a golden turnip plant to go to seed in Spring and we now have them growing in a couple of the pathways. There are only single rows of beetroot, carrots, parsnips, golden turnip and rocket – not that you’d ever need any more than one row of rocket!

veges 01
Left to right: Asparagus still sending up shoots; zucchini Costasta romanesco; parsley; bulb fennel.

Grapes and honey bees

grapes 01

Yet another amazingly productive crop we’ve had this season is grapes. The vine stretches along the sun-drenched,  north-facing wall of the barn and I’ve never seen as many. We can’t keep up with eating them, so they are all beginning to split and ferment on the vine.

bees
Honey bees (Apis mellifera) gorging on the over-ripe grapes

Grapes are particularly attractive to honey bees – more so in the morning, and in the evenings I’ve seen the German wasp, Vespula germanica hovering around, so I’m hoping to observe them at dusk at the end of one of the fine Autumn days we have ahead of us, to see if we can ascertain the location of their nest.

grapes 02
The picked grapes are sweet and juicy.

Northern Japan in springtime

In about a week’s time I’m heading to Asahikawa in the north of Hokkaido for about five weeks. The contrast in weather will be a shock, I’m sure – going from the mid 20s to low 30s Celsius to close to 0 degrees (at least, for the first week or so), but I’m very much looking forward to my very first visit to Japan and am planning on writing  about my impressions while I’m there. Because I won’t have the distraction of the garden, I should have much more time to write, which will be something I’m really looking forward to.

dahlia
DahliaCactus Colour Spectacle‘ growing against the old fence.

Poutu-te-rangi / March

edge
Dry maize rustles musically in the breeze

From Sweltering Summer to Temperate Autumn

The maize along the fenceline is ready for harvest. It’s a visual reminder that summer is over. The days are slow to lighten and early to darken, and the grass is thick with dew when I make my way to the barn in the early morning. The gravel road is dry and whenever a large truck rattles by, great dusty clouds drift across to settle on our solar panels.

It’s been several weeks since I’ve written about South Head. Or about anything, for that matter. It’s been difficult to knuckle down to writing after taking time off over the Christmas/New Year period.

While it’s been a very long and hot summer, we’ve also had a decent amount of rain, which of course has meant that everything has just kept on growing. We’ve created enough gardens here to keep us busy every daytime hour, and for the first time I’ve been wondering if it’s too much. What with the dead-heading, the trimming, the watering, the sowing, the harvesting… not to mention the tying, the squashing (caterpillars), the sampling, the digging and the weeding, always the weeding. (It’s making me exhausted all over again, writing about it.)

alpaca
Kumeu A & P Show: curious alpaca & disinterested rooster

So… we’ve mostly been home over the weekends slaving away in an attempt to keep everything under control, with a couple of diversionary breaks visiting the local A & P Shows – I like to check out the poultry while Ben looks longingly at the tractors. 🙂


 Bounty from the Garden

preserves
A selection of home preserves, from left to right: Beetroot; ‘Look Alike’ Lemon Curd; Spicy Tomato Sauce; Zucchini Pickle; Greek Tomato Paste

Since I last blogged we’ve harvested a parade of fresh produce, including grapes, lettuces, carrots, rhubarb, cannellino beans, sweet basil, garlic, cucumbers, peas, beans (green, yellow, purple), main crop potatoes (Agria), beetroot, silver beet, shallots, buttercup squash, tomatoes, butternut pumpkins and LOTS of of zucchini.

produce.jpg
A selection of produce, from left to right: white table grapes; cannellino beans; Rhubarb Tarte Tartin

To use up the rhubarb and zucchini I’ve made several Rhubarb Tarte Tartin and a few jars of Lemon Curd Look-Alike, as well as some zucchini pickle. But the neat thing about this year is that we haven’t had too much of one particular vegetable. Everything we’ve grown we’ve either eaten fresh, or I’ve cooked up, preserved, frozen or baked into something.

Tomatoes and Zucchinis

toms and peppers
Left to right: tomatoes & onions ready to be cooked for Tomato Relish; red and yellow habanero slices, arranged for drying

The tomatoes have been great, but I picked the last one yesterday and I know I’ll miss having them on hand at meal times. I’m glad that I preserved a good amount this season (Spicy Tomato Sauce, Tomato Relish, Greek Tomato Paste) and that I also froze about a dozen packs of frozen skinless tomato flesh for use during the cooler months.

Recipes

One of the easiest salads to throw together involves mixing chopped tomatoes with a handful of fresh basil (made into a paste), a generous squirt of extra virgin olive oil and finely sliced or diced zucchini or cucumber. I read somewhere that raw zucchini helps you feel ‘more full’ than some of our other salad vegetables, and it’s lovely and light when sliced thinly.

I love cooked zucchini, too. It’s such a versatile vegetable. My favourite quick recipe involves slicing the zucchinis thickly, then sautéing them in a small amount of olive oil along with crushed garlic and sage leaves. The sage leaves turn crispy and add a delightfully fragrant ‘crunch’ to the dish.

Habanero

peppers
3 stages of habanero peppers – fresh to dry

Our habanero chiles are ripening as I type, so I’m picking them each day, drying them, then nuking them in a small food processor. We’ll use the chile powder all through the year to jazz up our meals. One of my favourite uses is to sprinkle a liberal amount into cheese toasted sandwiches. Yum!! (It’s very hot, though – not for the chile uninitiated.)

I’ve also raised a pink variety of habanero this year. It’s currently at the flowering stage, so, no fruit, but I can’t wait to see what they look like!

Pears

pears
Autumn pears & the finished product

March in New Zealand is the month for pears and melons. Our old pear tree has produced a good amount of sound fruit this year and yesterday I bottled a small sample in a light syrup. Not sure why I haven’t processed our pears this way before – I usually freeze them for desserts – but I do like to see the finished product in our pantry. And it’s so easy to preserve them using the water-bath method.

I didn’t remember until after I’d finished that you’re supposed to pack the fruit tightly into the jars to avoid having them float to the top of the syrup… oh well… next time!

Melons

melons
Melon, ‘Collective Farm Woman’ (Cucumis melo)

I sowed seeds for a different melon this year, Collective Farm Woman. It’s a small Ukrainian melon from the Black Sea area, about the size of a honeydew, with pale flesh, the flavour delicately sweet and slightly evocative of bananas.


 Bantams!

bantams
Our new bantam hens (left) and Charlie

We picked up a trio of Bantams at the recent Helensville A & P Show. They’ve settled in well and having Charlie (the rooster) crow loudly at 5.15 am hasn’t been too much of a shock.

When we first let the bantams join the rest of the flock, they kept to themselves, but they’re now walking around alongside the others. They choose to sleep outside  – the rooster up high in a branch of one of the feijoa trees, and the two girls on the fence below. Not sure if they’ll ever voluntarily join the hens in the barn. Perhaps we’ll have to manually move them there in Winter when it gets cold at night.

That reminds me… feijoas! They’re growing plump on the trees. And just now I can see two fat kereru perched up on the yellow guava, eating the first of the golden yellow fruit. The kereru started visiting again a couple of weeks back – I guess our garden is part of their seasonal food cycle, too.


sunrise
Autumn: Looking across The Kaipara at dawn

 

 

 

 

Egg Mountains

Where shall I lay my eggs today?

The usual nesting choices.
The usual nesting choices. Top left: The new nest in the kindling pile (preferred by Honey, and the older hens, i.e., Lottie, Lulu or Leila); Top right: Pompom’s choice is under the edge of the barbecue cover; Bottom left: Francesca, Pearl (in situ) and Hannah use the nesting boxes in the hen house. Bottom Right: Fatima always lays in a nest box in the barn.

As much as I love our hens dearly, sometimes they can be very annoying. This particular tale concerns a couple of our ‘saved’ hens, Honey and Perky.

Honey

Our saved hen, Honey.
Our saved hen, Honey.

In mid-September, Honey went missing for almost a week. Then on two mornings in a row, Ben spotted her eating pellets in the barn with the other hens – as if she’d never been away. Then she’d disappear again.

After some sleuth work (which involved spying and following), we found her in a grassy hollow in the back paddock, sitting on a mountain of warm eggs. She’d been sneaking back to eat at intervals, then returning to the (impossible) task of waiting for the eggs to hatch.

She was well into broody mode, so we had to remove all the eggs and separate her into the back hen enclosure for a few days. When we tested the eggs using the ‘does it float or not?’ test, they all looked a bit borderline so we disposed of them. (Ben later remarked that they didn’t look good when he broke them, so I’m glad I wasn’t involved with that process.)

Honey has stayed around since then, and has built a new nest in amongst the pile of dry kindling in the barn. And for a time, Perky, and our older hens started laying there as well. So there were generally 3 or 4 eggs in that particular nest when I’d check them each day.

Hens don’t usually lay an egg on every day of the week, so when the number of eggs in that nest dropped down to 2 or 3 on most days, I didn’t think too much of it.

Perky

Our saved hen, Perky.
Our saved hen, Perky.

Yesterday, I was deliberating on the fact that our total daily egg tally still looked a little low. I’d still have expected to see 4 eggs in that nest every so often. And we remembered that the week before last, we’d had to rescue Perky when she got herself stranded between two fences along the edge of the back paddock. (I still have no idea how she got there. It was raining and she was as wet as a shag.)

Missing eggs + Perky behaving suspiciously in the back paddock = one conclusion.

Testing the Theory

Last night, Ben shut the gate to the hen enclosure and let the girls out early this morning so that he could see if any of them ran off somewhere.

Believe it or not, there are 18 eggs in this pile!
Believe it or not, there are 19 eggs in this pile!

Sure enough, Perky headed out (the long way) to the back paddock and settled herself down amongst the long grass. Ben found one egg all by itself nearby and left her there to finish laying. When he went back an hour or so later, he found a nest with an additional 19 eggs! Not again! So he brought all the eggs inside and left a fake egg in their place.

At least we know to look there now, and at least Perky hasn’t shown any signs of broodiness. It seems she’s been content to lay an egg on that huge pile, then join her sisters for the rest of the day.

Eggs in a bucket.
Eggs in a bucket.

I’m going to check the 20 eggs for freshness, and I may end up discarding a few of them, just to be on the safe side. And if I do… well, that will be the annoying part. The waste of all those beautiful big eggs.

Molly is generally oblivious to the goings-on of the hens.
Molly is generally oblivious to the goings-on of the hens.

Chile Dreams / Ngaa Moemoeaa Hirikakaa

or… how to wile away an afternoon instead of working on your current writing project.

The finished product
The finished product

This week is Te Wiki o Te Reo Maaori, hence my attempt at dual headings.  The macrons don’t seem to always display that well, so in same cases I’ve reverted to double vowels.

My Road to Chiles
Tāku Ara ki Ngā Hirikakā

From the day I first tasted a pickled jalapeno on a pizza, I’ve always loved chiles. Very early on I was a member of a chile pepper Usenet newsgroup – this was back in 1994/1995, and a time when the internet as we know it now, was still in its infancy.   You weren’t able to browse gazillions of web pages then, nor purchase unusual chile seeds online.  A friend sent me some Habanero seeds by snail mail, all the way from the US.  Of course, it was probably illegal to do this, but I didn’t think about such things back then, I was just so keen to try them.  I nurtured the precious plants under plastic in my (then) Dunedin garden.

Habanero
Ngā Hirikakā Tino Kakā

The Habanero is still my absolute favourite pepper.  In my opinion, it is the most floral and fragrant of them all and I love the heat.  I use Habanero everywhere; in curries and pickles, sauces and pastes, even in a Hot Martini! 🙂

A chile plant in July at South Head.
A chile plant in July at South Head.

I have grown Habanero, Jalapeno, Serrano and other assorted peppers continuously, since moving to South Head. In fact, my plants are still bearing chiles, out there in the cold, wintry conditions… They are so prolific that by the end of a season, I get somewhat lazy about harvesting them.

Keeping Chiles for Later Use
Hei Rokiroki ngā Hirikakā

My usual practice has been to pick the chiles when they are fully ripe, wash and dry them thoroughly, then freeze them whole.  This is an excellent way to store these jewel-like fruit as you can just take one out and slice off a chunk when you need it.  The problem is, we can never keep up with eating them and there are bags of them in the freezer – some going back a couple of years.  They don’t seem to deteriorate.

This year I thought I’d try preserving some by drying. I’ve seen those neat little jars in home ware shops – the ones with a glass body and a stainless steel screw-top lid with holes. Dried chile is such a beautiful colour, how nice it would be to have our very own flakes or powder, to use as a condiment.

Drying Chiles
Hei Whakamaroke ngā Hirikakā

Chilli peppers strung up in the barn.
Chile peppers strung up in the barn.

I wouldn’t say that my technique was completely successful.  I diligently harvested a mixture of Habanero and Caribbean Red Habanero, threaded them on strings, and strung them up in both the barn and the hot water cupboard. I kept a few back to use fresh – they were in a rourou on the bench, then forgot about them.  Amusingly, a few weeks later, I noticed that these were starting to dry quite well, so I put the rourou into the hot water cupboard as well.

dried chiles

Today I decided it was high time to do something with these peppers. Every time I went to put some linen in the cupboard, I had to push it behind the chiles rattling on their strings.  Interestingly, I discovered that the peppers that had dried the best, i.e., had no mouldy-looking discolouration, were actually the ones in the rourou.

The End Product
Te Mea Whakamutunga

flakes

I discarded any that didn’t look good enough for my high standards (!)  This reduced my stock by at least 50%.  I then trimmed the stalks off the others and nuked them in my blender/grinder.

The result is a lovely HOT product – a chili powder/flake, which will be ideal to sprinkle on foods, or to add at the cooking stage – IF YOU DARE.  I was using a pastry brush to sweep out the last powdery residue from the grinder – didn’t want to waste any – and inhaled some. Yowsa it was hot, and I coughed for about five minutes.


Recipes
Ngā Tohutaka

Hot Martini

This is the recipe that we use, but I can’t find where I sourced it, unfortunately.

  • 60 mls gin
  • 7.5 mls Dry Vermouth
  • Splash of aromatic bitters
  • Slice of Habanero chile to taste
  • 3 green olives

Habanero Martini

I also found this recipe on the net. It sounds much hotter – perhaps we’ll check it out tonight.

Ingredients

  • ½ habanero pepper
  • 60 mls agave tequila
  • 15 mls dry vermouth
  • Ice

Instructions

  1. In a cocktail glass muddle the habanero to release some juices. Do not pulverise. Keep the pepper in the glass, or remove it for a (slightly) lesser heat.
  2. Combine over ice the tequila and vermouth. Shake well. Then pour the mix over the muddled habanero.

If you are interested in chiles, here is a useful link Chile Pepper Varieties

The Habanero Martini recipe is borrowed from PepperScale’s site – lots of neat recipes there.

Kō tēnei Te Wiki o Te Reo Maaori!

Anyone for German Rye?

Foggy Morning

mist

It was foggy when I awoke this morning, and a rather chilly 7 degrees Celsius.

The paddock next door glowed a mellow brown against the leaden sky. It had been freshly-plowed a couple of days ago and the rich earth bristling with broken maize stalks reminded me of a rough slice of dark rye bread.

I walked a circuit of the property several times (my usual practice). This combines exercise with the chance to see the myriad changes in the garden from the previous day.

Spider Webs

orbweb

What captured my attention today was the texture of the light through the mist and the way it picked out the delicacy of the tiny things it touched.

For example, I saw  the work of countless orb-web spiders.  Their intricate webs are strung from fence wires, dangling from branches and woven between the leaves of the harakeke and other native shrubs.

This morning, each web was heavily laden with tiny drops of water.

The Colours of a Misty Day

mist 03

At first glance, the garden appeared to be clothed in muted greys and pastels.

Paradoxically, as I drew close to them, trees and shrubs seemed somehow fresher.  They appeared to loom up out of the grey and stood out with greater clarity than I’d noticed on days where there is no mist.

All the while, the sun was trying to break through the moisture-laden air.

Tahou

Zosterops lateralis lateralis (Waxeye or Silvereye)
Zosterops lateralis lateralis (Waxeye or Silvereye)

A tiny Tahou fed on small insects on the lichened branch of the old plum tree.

I was interested to read in Lynette Moon’s Know Your New Zealand Birds that this pretty little bird is protected.

Waxeyes are classified as native, which means they are either naturally found here, or self-introduced; large numbers migrated to New Zealand from Australia in the 1850s.

Who is the specimen here?

hens

When I came back indoors, several of the hens were on the terrace, looking in at me through the living room window. Sometimes I have the distinct impression that I’m a specimen in a zoo.

molly

Molly joined me. She looked at the hens, the hens looked back. Then they walked away. Slowly.

This always amuses me. Had she stared them down? What is the pecking order here?

On rainy days when the hens are sheltering near the window, Molly often looks out at them. Sometimes she goes right up to the window and just looks. I’d like to be able to read her mind.


 Reference:

Moon, Lynette (2006) Know Your New Zealand Birds New Holland Publishers (NZ) Limited, Auckland.

Woolly Hen

Strategies to Counteract Hen-Pecking

Perky chicken bare of feather
Looks out at the murky weather
Not for her the field next door
Nor sunny nooks on forest floor

Perky looking out towards where the other hens are scratching.
Perky looking out towards where the other hens are scratching.

Attempt 1: The Knitted Jumper

The idea of knitting a little outfit for Perky didn’t work out as we’d planned. And I suspect that Perky wasn’t impressed with the whole process, either.

Ben found a jumper pattern online, as well as comments indicating that dressing Perky in such an item would be a workable idea, and would help protect her and keep her warm until the feathers around her neck, chest and crop grow back.  I duly knitted away and produced the outfit below: –

The completed hen tunic.
The completed hen tunic.

That night, we crept up to the hen house under the cover of darkness, grabbed Perky (who was sound asleep) and while Ben held her snugly, I put the tunic over her head, fastened the two buttons, freed her wings and adjusted it as best I could.  Perky wasn’t that impressed but didn’t wriggle much.

Ben went out later on to see if she was still okay, and she was sleeping peacefully with the woolly jumper on. So far so good.

A disgruntled Perky, wearing her new 'jumper'.
A disgruntled Perky, wearing her new ‘jumper’.

The next day I went out first thing to check and was dismayed to discover that Perky had become entangled in the little outfit. She’d somehow managed to lift one of her legs through the ‘armholes’, where usually only her wings would go. So part of the garment was now under her body and the bottom edge of the garment was wet and muddy and dragging on the ground – of course to make matters worse, it was raining.

p_front

Dismayed, I managed to corner Perky and pick her up.  I stroked her for a bit to soothe her, and then re-adjusted the tunic, ensuring it was sitting correctly and that her wings and legs (and head, of course!) were free. I pulled it up so that it sat nicely below her neckline and set her back on the ground.

Even after adjusting the tunic, I could see that it was too loose.
Even after adjusting the tunic, I could see that it was too loose.

Thirty minutes later when I went back to check, I could see that the tunic was actually too large for her – she’s such a tiny scrap of feathers.  The hem was down to her ‘knees’ (not sure if hens have knees) and it was clearly annoying her – she kept trying to lift her legs to scratch it away with one or other of her feet.

Sadly I had to catch her again – Poor Perky, I hate chasing her to catch her when she’s not really tame enough.  I gave her some cuddles and removed the offending item.

Attempt 2: Stockholm Tar

The other three saved hens were still pecking at her bare skin, so on Saturday we applied some Stockholm Tar to the exposed flesh, thinking this would be a good solution.

Wrong again. The other hens just pecked it off – we could see who the main culprit was (Crinkle) by the tar on her beak.

Attempt 3: Isolation

It doesn't seem fair that Perky has to be the one kept away from the outside world.
It doesn’t seem fair that Perky has to be the one kept away from the outside world.

Perky is now all by herself in the rescued hen section of our fenced off area.  The other three saved hens have been integrated into our main flock and are doing fine.

One amusing thing though… while chasing Perky on Saturday to apply the Stockholm Tar, Ben found a pile of more than 30 eggs, all nicely piled up under some long grass.

The secret nest area.  We've left a fake egg there so that Perky has something to lay her own egg beside.
The secret nest area. We’ve left a fake egg there so that Perky has something to lay her own egg beside.

We checked them all using the ‘will they float in water?’ test, and ended up only discarding about 10. We had visitors over the weekend so have eaten the remainder already.  It would appear that all the rescued hens have been laying since we’ve had them.  I think that’s ironic considering that the battery farms cull them for going off the lay.

The short poem to Perky at the top of the page is a quatrain.

Summer to Autumn

March

A typical March view of the paddock next door.
A typical March view of the paddock next door.

I started this post over a month ago but recent circumstances got the better of me and I didn’t get it finished.  Today I’ve made the commitment to at least get something posted – after all, the whole point of a blog is keeping up with it.

We’ve had a little rain – just enough to prevent it being declared a drought in our area, unlike some other parts of NZ – but it’s getting very dry now.  As I write a large truck has come scuttling down the hill and along the gravel road beyond our gate.  Huge clouds of dust drift and settle on our property.

I think of the solar panels and how they will most likely need to be cleaned manually if we don’t get a decent rainfall soon. You’d be surprised how much dust settles up there! Or perhaps you wouldn’t.

As I write it’s around 1.30 pm and 27 C outside in the shade.  By the time the sun comes around it will get very hot where I’m sitting, even with all the windows open.  It’s much too warm and humid for me outside at this time of day.  The sun just bears down relentlessly – hence the garden is quite neglected.  I’m hanging out for cooler mornings and evenings now that it’s Autumn.

Garden

Late summer vegetables
Late summer vegetables

The garden has still been remarkably productive, considering that until last week (when I put in a row of broccoli and rocket) I hadn’t sowed anything new since December.  We are still producing enough vegetables not to have to purchase anything other than the occasional bag of potatoes.

The basket above shows some of the vegetables we’ve been harvesting since I last wrote, but the green beans are finished now.  As are the peas and we just didn’t eat any of the lettuces I diligently sowed in Spring and early Summer – they kept going to seed as we were eating other vegetables, so I stopped sowing them.

Vegetables

The vegetables we’ve been consuming the most of, lately, have been tomatoes, turnips and zucchinis.

Golden Turnip and Zucchini - summer staples
Turnip ‘Golden Ball’ and Zucchini ‘Costasta Romanesco’ – summer staples

The heirloom golden ball turnip is a delicious little vegetable and easy to prepare.

A simple recipe I use is to peel them, then cut them into cubes and blanch in boiling water. Drain the water off and saute the cubes in a little oil of your choice until they start to brown in patches, add 1 tbsp butter, 1 tsp brown sugar and 2 tsp apple cider vinegar.  Stir through to form a light glaze.  Season with salt and pepper and they are ready to eat.

Tomatoes: Bloody Butcher, Black Krim, Mortgage Lifter
Tomatoes (Left to Right): Bloody Butcher, Black Krim, Mortgage Lifter

The three varieties of tomato that I grew this year are ‘Black Krim’, ‘Mortgage Lifter’ and ‘Bloody Butcher’.  Of the three, I definitely prefer Black Krim and Mortgage Lifter.

Tomatoes (Left to Right): Bloody Butcher, Black Krim, Mortgage Lifter
Tomatoes (Left to Right): Bloody Butcher, Black Krim, Mortgage Lifter

While Bloody Butcher has a nice flavour, I much prefer the texture and size of the other two.   As a matter of interest, I collected one of each and cut them in half to show how different they are from each other, inside. (Hence,  the images above.)

Garlic drying on our back fence and a plate of newly-pulled beetroot.
Garlic drying on our back fence and a plate of newly-pulled beetroot ‘Crosbys Egyptian Flat’.

We’ve had enough cucumbers to keep us going, but not too many, and of course the usual carrots, rocket, basil… silver beet, beetroot, that we usually have on an ongoing basis.

Our harvest of Egyptian Walking Onions
Our harvest of Egyptian Walking Onions

I’ve lifted our almost all the garlic (yes, I know, it’s very late in the season not to have completed this task) and all the Egyptian Walking Onions.  We had amazing crops of each of these.  The onions are great and we have strung them up to dry out, and the garlic bulbs are very fat this year.

We do have a large section of our garden devoted to main crop potatoes but I have a bad feeling about them.  We didn’t really realise how much water they require and should have been watering the plants as they developed.  We poked around beneath the soil of a couple of plants a few weeks back and they really had nothing much under there, just some tiny, tiny potatoes.

Oh well, there’s always next year, I guess.  At least we did have a decent amount of ‘earlies’ prior to Christmas.

Fruit

Passion fruit and Plums

Yummy Passion fruit, Passiflora edulis
Yummy Passion fruit, Passiflora edulis

Fruit-wise we’ve had a glut of Passion fruit and are making sure that we each consume several per day so that they don’t go to waste.  They are lovely big Passion fruit and are extremely juicy and flavoursome.  We still have pulp from last season that we froze a year ago as it was so precious (haha!).  I’m definitely not going to freeze any this year.

Juicy, red plums
Juicy, red plums

I did manage to process some of our plums in January. We had so many, all ready at the same time, so we halved and froze some for later, ate a great deal and used the rest for jam and plum wine.

Plum Wine

Plum wine: a new batch and the finished product.
Plum wine: a new batch and the finished product.

The left-hand  image above shows this year’s batch of plum wine  directly after the first racking off.  Prior to that I’d fast-fermented the must on the skins for the first few days, to bring through a little of the red colour – the plums themselves are yellow-fleshed.

We also opened a bottle of our plum wine from 2010 – we tend to forget that we have bottles of fruit wine in our cellar. It was actually not bad!

Fiery Plum and Habanero Jam

Fiery Habanero and Plum Jam

The jam was basically just plums, sugar and habanero pepper.  I had to keep tasting the jam as I went along to ensure it was hot enough (but not too hot!); I added more habanero as it cooked.  It turned out really well.

It’s very rich in flavour and ideal either just as jam, or added to casseroles or curries to give them an extra zing.  It’s also good with cold meats and cheeses.  Nice and spicy!  I love the taste of habanero.

Molly

Well, there’s a sad tale to tell about Molly (it has a happy ending, though).  I’ll have to write up what happened in a separate blog or I’ll never get this posted.

I’ll finish with a photo of a couple of my dahlias.  They are very pretty… this photo was taken a week or two ago, they don’t look so perky today, due to the lack of rain.

Dahlias ' ' and 'Apache blue'.
Dahlias ‘Taratahi Lilac ‘ and ‘Apache blue’.

 

Windy!

The south-easterly is howling through the maize in the field adjacent to our land.
The south-easterly is howling through the maize in the field adjacent to our land.

South-Easterly

We were away from South Head from Saturday morning until Sunday early evening, and while we were gone, a very strong south-easterly wind developed.  The prevailing wind for our area is supposed to be a southerly, but in actual fact, a straight southerly doesn’t really  affect our property due to the fact that there is a convenient rise in the land that protects us.  We do sometimes get a nor-easterly.  While this is annoying, we’ve put things in place to protect our vulnerable plants – sturdy stakes and protective shelter material… that kind of thing.  But this south-easterly is coming in from an angle we haven’t experienced before.

The wind is doing its best to separate the washing from the line!
The wind is doing its best to separate the washing from the line!

When I hung out the washing earlier I had to use twice as many pegs per garment.  It reminded me of trying to wrestle with cloth nappies in Lyall Bay, Wellington, back in the 70s.

Plums

This doesn't really show the extent of the plum loss - they are spread over a wide area of ground
This doesn’t really show the extent of the plum loss – they are scattered over a wide area of ground

I was too exhausted last night to look at the garden, but the first intimation I had that all was not well was when Ben reported that nearly all the fruit had been blown off from my favourite plum tree.  This is the plum tree in what we now term our ‘native’ area – it’s an old tree that has less plums than the one growing closer to the vege garden.  But the plums are larger and have a deep red flesh.

I love them and have been looking forward to eating them.

Fallen plums
Fallen plums

When I went out earlier this morning to take stock, I felt like crying.

And I do still have a heavy heart, but I suppose there is no point in shedding tears over lost fruit.  At least we aren’t dependent on our fruit or our crops for our livelihood.

The second plum tree - mostly unaffected by the wind
The second plum tree – mostly unaffected by the wind

Fortunately, the other plum tree is situated out of the worst of the wind.  It’s still laden with fruit.

Local Birds

The wind has has had an impact on the birds that have chosen to make their homes here, as well.  I’m sure they were just as unprepared for the wind’s unusual direction.

We’ve found quite a few parts of nests on the ground, and the sparrows are busy with recycling; flying down to collect the broken nest parts from the ground and carrying them back up to their respective nesting sites.

A tiny nest lined with hair of some kind.
A tiny nest lined with hair of some kind.

Ben found the above nest below the macadamia tree, although it’s so light that it could have blown from anywhere.

It’s quite a bit smaller than any I’ve seen on the ground before.  The diameter of the inner bowl is approximately 4.5 to 5 cm and it’s lined with silvery grey hair of some kind.  I pulled a couple of strands out and it’s too coarse to be human or from a cat.  And I think too long to be from a dog… I’m wondering if it’s horse hair or something like that.  I really have no idea.

It’s a beautiful little nest, though, with moss and lichen woven in to the outside.

Possibly a blackbird's or a thrush's nest.
Possibly a blackbird’s or a thrush’s nest.

The above nest is much more loosely-woven than the smaller one.  It’s also quite a bit larger – around 9 to 10 cm across the bowl of the nest.  We’re pretty sure it belonged to either a blackbird or a song thrush.  We could only see the tail of the bird sticking up when it was sitting on, it as it was just out of eye sight.

The nest had been built in quite a small, spindly broad-leaf, and right from the start was partly tipping out, so it’s not surprising that it was dislodged by the wind.  This  nest is constructed almost entirely from grasses, with a tiny bit of lichen visible… and it seems to be lined with fine mud.

Three Blackbird eggs
Three Blackbird eggs

Our resident Blackbird couple are raising their third batch of eggs this season.  The female is currently sitting on three eggs – I had first observed her back on the nest on 09 December, which surprised me.  Raising young seemed to be a never-ending process for her and  I wasn’t sure if was because something had happened to her previous babies or whether she would keep on raising new broods if time allowed.

With her second batch I had noted the following: –

  • 19 November: 2 whole eggs, 2 hatched
  • 20 November: 4 hatched
  • 02 December: 4 chicks, well feathered and alert
  • 03 December: Nest empty

It seems amazing to me that it only took 13 days to go from hatching to flight.

I found an excellent page which provided me with the answers on the Tiritiri Matangi site.  It seems that Blackbirds do raise 2 – 3 broods per year, and that the chicks fledge at 13 – 15 days.  The other interesting fact I read is that a Blackbird’s possible lifespan is 15 years.

Garden Diary

It's going to be a bumper season for passionfruit.
It’s going to be a bumper season for passion fruit.

The garden has been flourishing, and as usual, I’ve been struggling to keep on top of things.  There has been more rain in November & December in comparison with the past couple of years, which is a good thing.  We’ve only had to water the vegetable garden once, and that very evening it rained, so …

The tomatoes are coming along nicely.
The tomatoes are coming along nicely.

We’re been well-served by our vegetables and have been eating asparagus, beetroot, silver beet, green beans, peas, lettuces, rocket, new potatoes and Florence fennel.  Probably some other things as well but it’s hard to keep up.

Sweet Peas

My favourite early Summer flower.
My favourite early Summer flower.

I can’t finish today’s entry without putting in a plug for Sweet Peas.  I was very disappointed with the strike rate for the seeds I sowed in winter.  I had used up a whole packet but only a handful of seeds germinated.

Well… the ones that did sprout, combined with a few self-sown plants, have provided a wonderful display once again.   I’m sure the extra rain has helped, too.

I love these flowers and every other day have picked enough to fill two vases.  Even as I sit here writing I can smell their sweet and spicy scent from across the room.

Sun, Wind and Rain

November is here!

Rain is being blown across the paddocks, watering the maize.
Rain is being blown across the paddocks, watering the maize.

It was incredibly windy on Tuesday, with strong gusts blowing in from the west all day.  It was also very sunny.

Today, the wind is still howling and it’s bringing torrents of rain every 30 minutes or so.  It’s noticeably cooler, too.

Vegetables

Yesterday was a great day for the garden, despite the wind.  I’d decided to dedicate a decent amount of time to tidying up and sowing some more seeds, so started around 9.30 am.

The first thing I had to do was re-tie the young tomato plants to their stakes.  They are hardening up nicely and the first two I planted out are flowering, but some of the spindlier ones were definitely being battered by the wind.

The latest cleared vegetable bed... between the betroot and carrots I sowed edamame and more carrots.
New seeds have gone in between the beetroot and the carrots & peas.

I then set to work tidying up a patch of the garden that had some bolting lettuces.  After pulling them out and sifting through the soil, I sowed a second row of Edamame and a row of the heirloom carrot, ‘Touchon‘.  I was reassured to see that despite the dryness of the surface, there’s still evidence of moist soil about a trowel’s depth in.

On Sunday I had already sowed rows of organic Basil ‘Sweet Genovese’, Turnip ‘Golden Ball’ and Beetroot ‘Crosby’s Egyptian Flat’, so I’m feeling much better about the state of the vegetable garden.  I don’t think I’ll ever get on top of the required tasks, though.

The wonderful South Head growing conditions that produce so many vegetables, also produce weeds that grow with alarming vigour and scatter their seeds all year round.  And there is never a frost to kill anything off.

Spring Greens

Beetroot (foreground), kale and broad beans.
Beetroot (foreground), kale and broad beans.

The vegetables are providing us with choices each day – it’s a matter of juggling between them all and trying to work out what we particularly feel like eating for any given meal.

In the past week we’ve enjoyed Silverbeet, Asparagus, Kale, Lettuce (not just the green variety), Rocket, Broad Beans, Red Cabbage and Peas.

Asparagus
Asparagus

I couldn’t say which is my favourite, though I do love to have asparagus spikes every other day of the week at this time of year.

Fresh garden peas.
Fresh garden peas.

Close behind would be fresh peas, and tender young broad beans are wonderful, mashed up with butter and a little garlic.

And I found a really easy (and yummy) recipe for Red Cabbage – so we’ve cooked this up a couple of times.  I think this is on the menu for tonight, actually.   Sautéed Red Cabbage.

Other Vegetables

Florence Fennel

Florence Fennel (foreground) and Peas.
Florence Fennel (foreground) and Peas.

The Florence Fennel has been putting on a good deal of growth.  Fingers crossed they won’t bolt before forming their bulbs.  We’ve had good crops for several years now, and one that went straight to seed.

You can see dried Lilly Pilly leaves in all my photos.  They seem to fall at all times of the year and I’m always scraping them out of the garden in an attempt to keep it looking tidy.  But I guess I’ll never have a tidy garden as the slightest breeze sends them showering back down.

Runner Beans and Lettuces

Lettuces and Runner Beans.
Lettuces and Runner Beans.

The runner beans seem a bit slow.  Ben put in some ‘King of the Blues Runner’ in between the Scarlet Runners from last year.  Scarlet Runners are perennial, although most people tend to pull them out at the end of the season and put in new seeds the following year.

Growing in front of them are a few lettuces and some self-sown Viola Tricolor (Heart’s Ease).

Potatoes and Sweet Corn

I poked around beneath the soil by one of the early potatoes and was pleased to see at least one beautiful new potato.  It was quite a good size for an ‘early’ so I’m hopeful that we may have better luck this year with growing spuds.

Ben hasn’t been so lucky with his sweet corn, though.  He sowed a whole packet and only two sprouted.  It’s hard to know if it’s something in the soil, or our friendly blackbirds have been in and dug them out.  It’s disappointing and exasperating, but given that our back paddock has been sowed in a commercial crop of sweet corn and that we always get to help ourselves after the first picking, I’m philosophical about it.

I don’t think we’ll bother to try to grow sweet corn again.  (We did have a really good crop the first year we were here.)

Onions

Egyptian Walking Onions
Egyptian Walking Onions

The Egyptian Walking Onions (also known as Tree Onions) are coming along well, forming the first little topsets at the end of their leaves.

I’ll be glad to have these as I’ve had bad luck with trying to grow regular onions.  The seeds have struck well enough, but have been dug up by birds before becoming properly established.

Silver Beet

This Silverbeet never stops growing.
This Silverbeet never stops growing.

Our Silverbeet is amazing.  These plants are a couple of years old, but don’t seem to want to go to seed.  They have actual trunks now – somewhat like pyramids, with the leaves forming in a circle around the upper edges.

A week or so ago I pulled off all the ratty leaves, thinking that we’d be pulling the plants out soon.  They responded by sending out new glossy leaves, immaculate.  We had to cook some up last night just to work our way through them.  The ribs are so wide and the leaves so large that we can’t eat both.

Strawberries and Bananas

The strawberries are safe from the blackbirds, now.
The strawberries, protected from the blackbirds.

The strawberries have been coming along well.  The problem with them (is there a common theme, here?) has been the blackbird hen.   And probably a few other birds as well.

Each morning I’d go down to the garden only to find sharp pecks in the strawberries – even before they’d ripened properly.  I’m sure the hens were happy, though, as I’d throw them all the half-pecked fruit which they’d eat avidly.

Ben’s built a clever frame with netting to keep the birds off, so the berries are having a chance to ripen and be eaten by humans, rather than birds.  We’ve probably picked around a kilogram so far.

Banana 'Mons Mari'.
Banana ‘Mons Mari’.

The bananas are also looking good.  They seem to be forming better than the ones from earlier in the year – perhaps due to the improved growing conditions.  It’s warm, and we’ve had a good deal of rain compared to a year ago.

Blackbirds and Feijoa Flowers

Blackbird hen, back on the nest.
Blackbird hen, back on the nest.

Speaking of the blackbird hen, she’s back on the nest again! This is the same nest she used to raise her last batch – built inside a small Sweet Bay tree situated within our fenced-off vegetable garden area.

I took the above photo yesterday and had to poke the camera in quite far as it was so windy that the branches were being rocked and shaken.

As you can see, she stares steadily out at you, but doesn’t budge.  Not that I’d want her to – and I tried to be as quick as I could as I’d hate to put her off her task.

Despite the damage the birds do to our garden we do love having them here.  They are so tame and so pretty.

We regularly see two or three young birds from her first brood.  They have grown from chubby little birds with short tail feathers and speckled breasts, to much sleeker specimens.  And where originally they weren’t very skilled at flying, they are now adept.

Feijoa flowers are irresistible to birds.
Feijoa flowers are irresistible to birds.

We don’t see the male (father) blackbird very often, but the hen and young ones are often in the Feijoa, eating the crimson flowers.  I was worried about this until I read that birds eating the petals help pollinate the flowers.  However, it seems to me that the birds not only eat the petals but destroy the whole flower.  Often the complete flower drops to the ground and the bird will fly down and finish it off there.  I guess time will tell.

Freshly-plucked Feijoa flower.
Freshly-plucked Feijoa flower.

The other thing I read with interest is that the fleshy petals of the Feijoa flower are edible and can be sprinkled in salads, etc.  I decided to check this out this morning (even though I didn’t want to remove a potential Feijoa) and can confirm that they have a pleasant taste.  They are more fleshy than they look, so have a bit of texture to them, and have a delicate sweet and spicy flavour.  No wonder the birds like them!

Neoregelia

Neoregelia
Neoregelia

Here’s another member of the Bromeliad family that is currently looking good in the garden.  I love the way water collects in the centre of the leaves.

Neoregelia are native to the South American rain forests.  I’m pretty sure that this particular specimen is Neoregelia ‘Everlasting’.

Gardening Chores and The List That Grows

 Garden Diary

Glass of Corbans 2002 Private Bin Hawkes Bay Chardonnay, after a day gardening
A welcome glass of Corbans 2002 Private Bin Hawkes Bay Chardonnay, after a day gardening

After a calm and rainy Saturday, the sun showed its face again today and we spent our time trying to knock some items off our ever-growing gardening ‘To Do’ list.  The trouble is, one thing always leads to another – and the ‘other’ is usually something that wasn’t on the list to begin with.

For example, we had two lovely dahlias growing (or trying to grow) under the Feijoa trees.  This had turned out problematical for two reasons…

  1. it’s extremely dry under the Feijoas and even though they have struggled on bravely, the dahlias have definitely suffered during the height of summer.
  2. The hens.  (Isn’t it always the hens?)  They love to sit in the shade under the Feijoas and scratch around, digging up anything that isn’t solid rock.  Their scratching shreds any new growth trying to push through the dusty soil.

Multiplication and Division

So, the plan this morning was to move both of the dahlias to a new site.  Stage One was accomplished without undue hassles.  This thanks to the fact that a space became available yesterday when Ben removed the Buddleja Globosa growing alongside the banana plant at the front right of the house.  The Buddleja had been a disappointing addition to that part of our garden – it had never done very well, hadn’t even flowered in the three years it had been there, so we’d decided to get rid of it.

Actually getting rid of any plant is always difficult for me, but this decision was made easier by the fact we’ve been able to take two rooted runners from it and plant them elsewhere.

The new site for the dahlias with Campanula persicifolia around the edges.
The new site for the dahlias with Campanula persicifolia around the edges.

It was while Ben was digging up the dahlias that I noticed the clump of Campanula persicifolia growing alongside.  I’d grown this from seed way back in 2011, but it, too, had never flowered.  However, the clump was looking surprisingly healthy this morning.  So we dug this out as well.

It’s really too late into Spring to divide a perennial – and it had quite a bit of new growth – but we managed to split it into about 20 separate plants.  These have now been transplanted into various other flower gardens, and watered copiously.  Fingers crossed, they’ll survive.  I should have done this a couple of months ago when we divided the Geums and the Asters.

Vegetables

Rocket thinnings - these were great in lunchtime sandwiches with avocado and egg.
Rocket thinnings – these were great in lunchtime sandwiches with avocado and egg.

I didn’t get much achieved in the vegetable garden today – in fact I pretty well gave it a wide berth.  But I did manage to thin out the rocket seedlings.  I’m so glad we have rocket again – just the smell of it makes my mouth water.

Pruning – Long Overdue

Left: Mandarin trimmings - pity about the fruit but we couldn't reach it anyway; Right: Firewood-sized plum tree trimmings.
Left: Mandarin trimmings – pity about the fruit but we couldn’t reach it anyway; Right: Firewood-sized plum tree trimmings.

Another task that hadn’t been tackled yet was the pruning of the old branches off some of our very old fruiting trees – especially the apricot and one of the three plum trees.  We’ve been working away at this judiciously each year to encourage new growth further down the trunks.  It’s a slow process, but of course today I noticed that we still hadn’t done this for this season.  Again, it’s getting too late into Spring for this task – but what is the best solution?  To just leave them as they are?

Left: View of the lichen-encrusted branches on the old pear tree; Right: Pear prunings.
Left: View of the lichen-encrusted branches on the old pear tree; Right: Pear prunings.

I still felt it was better to clean things up a little bit, so we set aside one hour and spent that time cutting back branches on our two mandarins, the pear and that one plum tree.   Mainly to remove the worst of the out-of-reach lichen encrusted limbs and to (hopefully) encourage lower growth to sprout.  Many of the branches we removed had died back, or had only a few straggly leaves.

We didn’t manage to get to the apricot – this will have to wait for another day.

Perhaps we should just give up on these old trees, as they don’t always produce much fruit, but I like the fact that they’ve been here so long and that someone else planted them all those years ago.  I like to feel the links to the past, I guess, the continuity.  And why destroy a tree if it still provides something –  even if it’s just shade, a place for birds to build their nests and the occasional piece of fruit.

Update on Blackbird Chicks

Left: Nest with chicks, 15 October; Right: Empty nest, 17 October.
Left: Nest with chicks, 15 October; Right: Empty nest, 17 October.

We were away from South Head almost all of Friday.  When we arrived home later in the afternoon and I checked the blackbird nest, it was empty.  There was no sign of any damage to the nest, nor were there any signs of anything worse, i.e. feathers or baby chick body parts.  I can only assume that they grew large enough to fly.   I last took a photo of them on Wednesday 15th (see above).

We’ve seen the hen blackbird a few times today and she seems to be taking worms, etc., up to the Lilly Pillies over the fence behind the plum tree.  We’re hoping that this is where the family has moved to.

Vriesea

Vrisea hyeroglyphica.
Vriesea hieroglyphica.

Finally, here is another photo of one of our bromeliads.  Again this is a form of Vriesea hieroglyphica.  A striking green one, this time.