Category Archives: Garden Notes

June Already!

Changing of the Seasons

The view out the bedroom window, mid-morning.

The Weather

It’s been windy over the past week or two, with several drenchings of heavy rain. Each morning I wake up to  the sound of the noisy sparrows in the totara outside my window, and try to guess what the weather is like outside. I part the curtains and see the early morning trees dark against the bedroom window, the thin first rays of light filtering through. I get up and start thinking about what I have planned for the day.

Despite the inclement and changeable weather, when the sun does appear, it’s unseasonably warm, often reaching 20 or 21 C. And once the clouds peel back, the washed-out blue of an early winter sky reveals the bright sun, scattering a saffron veil over the fields of maize husks, and polishing the freshly-mowed lawns to a luminous lime green.

Gingko tree with leaves turning.

Last week’s persistent Nor ‘westerly has gone.  Such a wind buffets the house, rattling the windows and clattering seed pods and dried leaves onto the corrugated iron roof. It shakes the Gingko by the front gate, causing it to shed its yellow leaves in a spectacular manner; they rise up into the air on a puff of wind, only to be tossed over the wire fence and onto the gravel road beyond.

It’s definitely been time to get the wood burner cranked up and we’re really appreciating the work done over Summer to cut and stack firewood and kindling.  Getting the fire to the best temperature can be a challenge… too hot and we have to start peeling off clothing items. This somewhat defeats the purpose.

June! It’s hard to believe that we’re so far through the year. Sometimes I wish that we had the occasional frost, but everything just keeps on growing up here in the ‘winterless north’.

The Garden

Growth in the ‘vegetable’ garden (or should I say, ‘weed’ birthing unit) has slowed down quite a bit. Of course this is normal with the shorter days and cooler evening temperatures. The recent rain has left the soil too wet to work – thank goodness we are on a hill and it will quickly drain away.

Vegetables

The carrots and slow-bolting coriander sowed towards the end of April, have sprouted. But the same cannot be said for the golden turnips. These members of the Brassica family usually pop up through the soil within a week, but alas, there’s no sign of them. It really perturbs me when this happens to fresh seeds… when not even one germinates. Why would that be? Is there a creature in the soil that really loves turnip seeds and has munched them all up?

Left: Detail showing aphids on the broad beans; Right: Broad bean seedlings in a range of sizes.

The additional broad beans I added to the row alongside the three baby plants have also struck well. This is something I’m really pleased about as there’s nothing nicer than a velvety broad bean puree, blended with a little butter and generously seasoned with  freshly-ground black pepper and sea salt. I also love the look of the mature plants with their pretty white flowers with their black ‘eyes’, and the way they attract bumble bees. I noticed clumps of aphids on the tender leaf buds… was happy to wash them off with a stream of water.

Fruit

A bowl of Feijoas, recently collected.

I’ve been surprised at the size of the feijoas I’ve seen for sale in the supermarkets. They’re so small!! Ours are almost finished, but there are still a handful falling heavily onto the grass each day.  And while we do have small ones, our larger ones weigh about 100 grams and most of our fruit weigh over 70 grams. Our two feijoa trees are so deceptive – in March we peered up into the branches and we really thought that this year was going to be a ‘rest’ year. I guess the fruit were hiding amongst the leaves.

The two avocado trees. Fuerte on the left, and Hass on the right.

It’s always rewarding for someone who didn’t even see an avocado until around age 19, to see them fattening up on the trees outside. I was introduced to this luscious fruit by Tina, the mother of my Chilean friend, Ceci. Tina spread some avocado flesh on a slice of toast for me to try. I really didn’t like that first taste – it seemed too bland, and the texture was unusual. I was living in Wellington at the time, and later moved to Dunedin where I resided for the next 25 years, and you certainly don’t see avocado growing outside that far south!

Our two avocado trees are the reason we started with our bees. We had a couple of years of many flowers and no pollinators. Fortunately (thanks to the bees) don’t have that problem now, and while our trees don’t have as many fruit as last year, this a good thing, as the trees are still young.

Left to right: Mandarin, Tahitian Lime and orange ‘Navelina Flame’.

The fruit on our citrus trees is also ripening well. Ripe limes have been falling, and the first mandarins are definitely ready – I’ve eaten a few. The juvenile navel orange has a handful of fruit, finally. Can’t wait to taste those!

Fig ‘Mrs Williams’, resting after a productive season.

Some  of the fruit trees are taking a well-deserved rest. For example, our fig tree; it looks like a sun-bleached skeleton amongst all the greenery. It’s hard to believe it was so productive last season, with its plump pink-fleshed fruit. Or that this tree was driven over in reverse by Ben on the ride-on mower when it was a mere toddler. It’s so tall now that we’ll be challenged when it comes time to protect the new fruit in Spring/Summer.

Flowers

Because I was away for most of last year, and for part of this year, the flower garden is in a bad state. The annual weeds have formed a dense carpet on the bare soil, and the perennials are well-established, BUT, even so, I’ve found some bright and cheerful offerings amongst the jungle.

Bromeliad circle – always colourful

Ben’s Bromeliad circle brightens up the entrance as you come through the gate. He’s planted them on the stump of a Redwood that used to grow adjacent to the driveway.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Erin Rachel’

And in the corner of the garden that we are letting revert back to native plants, a hibiscus that I’d forgotten about completely, has produced a couple of flowers. We recently cleared away a lot of dead branches and that most annoying noxious weed, ivy, and the increase in light must have been beneficial for this beautiful flower.

Still harvesting the chilis. In amongst the Habanero is a solitary Bhut Jolokia.

Winter Thoughts

The garden is mostly at rest, but the signs of new life are everywhere. I have the feeling that I’ll have to get a wriggle on and get things organised… so much to do, so little time. For starters, the shortest day is traditionally the time to plant garlic, so I’ll have to get those beds ready. There are perennial flowers that really should be dug up and divided. The roses need pruning. And what about writing, when on earth am I going to get on to that?

Dad’s in care, living out his last few weeks, day by day, hour by hour. My focus on gardening is (I’m sure) the way I’m managing the range of thoughts that go through my mind. Dad has always loved the land and growing things. In fact, one of my early memories is of standing on the end of the rake while Dad earthed up the potatoes in the vegetable garden. I remember sun, and the complex smell of the warm soil, that it was fun and I felt happy.

I wrote this on Sunday as I lay in bed, trying not to think about the huge thing that wants to be thought about…


Chasing Sleep

Tonight I feel sad. Dad’s by himself. Tossing and turning even in his dreams under thin covers on a plastic-sheeted bed. His body leaks fluids and his brow is hot. Alone, and maybe lonely. I wonder if he thinks he’s in a hell of some kind. 

Mum’s gone on ahead and us kids are in our own beds tonight.

I’m by myself, too, but this time there’s no chance that Dad will come home after dark having walked from Wallaceville Station, to quietly push my bedroom door open, his silhouette shaped by the hall light, to sit on the edge of my bed and wish me goodnight.

0035, 29 May , 2021


Back to the Garden

Monday of Anzac Weekend is drawing to a close. A three-day weekend, based around April 25th, Anzac commemorates the New Zealand and Australian forces ‘who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations’. The first Anzac Day commemorated the Aussies and Kiwis who served in the Gallipoli Campaign in World War I.

The weather has been the best kind of Autumn weather – sunny and calm – the perfect weather for garden and hive work. Because I was away from home for such a long time last year, our vegetable garden has fallen into an abysmal state. Weeds, weeds and more weeds. I was beginning to despair about what to do, where to start.

The garden plot prior to putting down the weed mat.

Vegetable garden

Last Wednesday I heard a very informative and interesting podcast on RNZ, “The Abundant Garden, Niva and Yotam Kay“, which inspired us to purchase a large piece of weed mat, the aim being to suppress and kill the weeds on a designated section of our vegetable garden. If we leave this in place for an appropriate period of time, all the nasty weeds underneath should, in theory, have died. Goodbye to Convolvulus arvensis and Kikuyu grass, as well as to a myriad of annual weeds.

The plot after stapling down the weed mat.

It’ll be interesting to see what’s underneath (hopefully nothing) when we lift the mat in a few weeks. For now it’s an instant tidy-up of a large section of the garden. I like it very much!

My straggly Ginger (Zingiber officinale) prior to digging up. Asparagus in the background.

I also had to dig up some Ginger rhizomes. I planted these a couple of years ago, maybe more, and have done nothing more than weed around them, and apply the occasional bucket of compost. Recently, I researched on what you’re supposed to do with these plants and discovered that I should lift them, clean them up, keep some for using in the kitchen, and hold some of the new rhizomes back to plant for the next season. Because they’ve been almost completely neglected, the rhizomes are very small, but I  feel optimistic that i can do better next season.

My somewhat feeble ginger crop. Definitely going to do better next season!

The other minor task I achieved was to clear a small bed and sow three rows of seeds. This patch was a jungle of weeds, mostly Fumitory, Oxalis and Fat Hen. Buried beneath were some sad-looking dwarf butter beans with dried pods. The soil was in really good nick – evidence of the amount of compost we’d applied back when the beans were producing. I cleared it all and sowed slow-bolting Coriander, Golden Turnip and Carrots. I’d had the seeds sitting around since last season so will be curious to see if they’re still viable.

My newly sown plot.

Habanero chili

Thank goodness we planted a few Habanero plants in Spring!

Preparing Habanero chilis for drying.

April seems to be the most favourable month in South Head/Te Korowai o Te Tonga for harvesting chili. Habanero are our all-time favourite peppers; they are satisfyingly hot, but also have a delicate, floral flavour. Each year I grow as many as I can and either dry them for adding to just about every dish (even my lunch-time rolled oats), or freeze to make Bob’s Habanero Hot Sauce, a recipe I discovered a few years ago, and a family favourite.

The dried Habanero chili product.

Last Winter we ran out of dried chili and it was a very sorry state of affairs. Nothing I can buy from a store is even remotely as good as our own dried chili powder.

Honey bees

Ben holding a healthy brood frame.

As well as garden work, I needed to check our three beehives for American foulbrood disease (AFB), prior to Winter. This is a regular task for which I have undergone training and refresher courses.

The complete eradication of AFB is the aim of the NZ honey industry. Fortunately our hives are clean, but if I’d found AFB in any of them – even in just one frame of one hive, I’d have been legally required to destroy all three hives. Every last bit of them. Hives, bees, frames, the lot!

Hive A’s Italian queen can clearly be seen in the top left of the photo.,

The bees are looking good for heading into Winter, with plentiful supplies of honey and pollen. We even sighted the queen bee in our first hive – a beautiful Italian lady.

Musings

The weekend has ended with some tasks completed but many still written up as ‘To Do’ on our kitchen whiteboard. I do feel satisfied that we’ve completed some of the long-overdue activities, but there are so many more. I often feel that my gardening practices are ‘all over the place’. That I dart from one job to another and never quite complete anything.

I guess the secret is to enjoy the task at hand – the process of preparing the chili, or checking the bee frames, of sifting the soil or picking out the tiny Oxalis bulbs – and not to worry about what I cannot complete on any given day. Tomorrow is a new day. I’ll have plans for what I wish to achieve, but something will come up and I’ll go off on another tangent. But perhaps this is okay.


 

 

 

 

 

 

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.