Spring is in the air and bursting up through the soil
In the past two weeks the weather has finally turned. It rarely gets very cold in Te Korowai-o-Te-Tonga. For example, we never experience anything close to a frost, but in August and September, after enjoying a number of mild days, we were frequently knocked out of our reverie by a harsh wind change, or days of heavy rain. In fact, there was so little sun from June to September, that I was beginning to feel despondent and to wonder if I’d ever be able to weed my precious flower garden. And yes, we’ve had a spell of rainy weather again, but now when the sun escapes from behind the clouds, it’s hot.
This has proved to be very successful, to the extent that our new season’s plants (now planted out) are almost at the point of providing us with vegetables—in fact, we picked our first small zucchinis (Zucchini ‘Costata Romanesco‘) only yesterday; babies, I know, but the plants are bursting with flower buds and fruit.
We’ve had lettuces all through winter and there’s a another crop on its way, thanks to a new scattering of seeds. And as per usual practice, we replanted our regular Egyptian Walking onions (Allium proliferum). They are such an amazing onion. Reliable and useful, and I think they look very attractive with their topknots of little bulbils. Along with the garlic, we managed to get these onions into the soil not too long after the shortest day and they are doing really well.
Home-crystallised ginger is far superior to anything you would buy packaged in a supermarket. And there are a couple of useful byproducts. (1) ginger syrup – you can guess what that’s good for, and (2) you can also consume the water that the ginger was originally simmered in. Ginger, of course, has many health-enhancing properties.
The Birds and the Bees
This Spring we’ve had terrible problems with Kotare flying into one of our bedroom windows. There’s been a pair that likes to sit on the washing line. And when they fly off, they see the trees reflected in the window and fly in a bee-line for it. Bang! So far this year we haven’t had any birds that have knocked themselves out, but it feels like it’s only a matter of time. The photo above shows that we’ve tied some cloths to the line, hoping that the flapping (when it’s windy) will deter the birds, but that hasn’t really worked. We’ve also put masking tape across the window, and so far, this seems to have helped. Fingers crossed.
A pair of Warou, or Welcome Swallows ((Hirundo neoxena), have once again built a nest in the barn – this time it’s the new barn. The photo shows the second nest they built. For some reason they didn’t lay any eggs in the first one, but we peeped into this one with a camera a couple of weeks back and saw four eggs. We don’t wish to go too close now, as the parent birds are sitting, and they get annoyed if we hang around. Sometimes you can see an adult head peeping out from above the nest.
We recently removed the varroa strips from our two hives and I also took the opportunity to check for AFB (American Foul Brood). This involves shaking the bees off all the brood frames, and scrutinising the brood cells. The bees looked healthy and we spotted the lovely Carniolan queen in Hive 01. They’ll be glad to have the honey boxes on top now, as there are many trees and plants in flower at the moment. We were disturbed to discover a herd of tiger slugs slithering up one of the inner walls of hive 03. And Hive 01 looked particularly damp on one edge and had an extended family of woodlice that we had to brush out.
The flower garden is still going strong, but has been somewhat neglected. Mostly because of the inclement weather in winter which meant I couldn’t get out to knock back the weeds in the way I’d liked to have. There are many plants in flower as I write, but most are from last year, or are Aquilegia, Dianthus, Lavenders, Viola, etc., that have self-sown.
I removed all the lovely dahlias we grew from seed a year ago, and have only recently replanted the tubers around the place. This year I grew a different dahlia from seed, and I’m really looking forward to see what colours I end up with. Growing flowers from seed, in particular, is very rewarding, I think. Especially the varieties that could be anything from a range of colours.
Finally, I have to include a photo of our Amaryllis ‘Apple Blossom’. This plant is so beautiful. And she’s tall as well, nearly up to my waist, definitely up to my hips.
“In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.” (Mark Twain)
Time has scooted by. I last wrote in June and since then, South Head has experienced days, weeks and months of disappointing weather. Strong winds that have swept branches off trees. Downpours so heavy that gutters have overflowed, whole sections of the garden borders have been submerged, and fragile seedlings have been battered. We’ve had numerous power cuts and the gravel road outside our property has been chewed up by logging and stock trucks, or on the rainless days (I hesitate to use the word ‘sunny’), clouds of dust have drifted onto the solar panels, propelled by any car that takes the slope down past our place a little too fast.
While I can’t do anything about the vehicles going past, November is in the air, and perhaps the weather will finally settle.
The garden, overall
The easterly gales of the past few days have done their dash, allowing the sun to finally slip out from under her korowai of clouds. After lunch today, the temperature climbed from 17 to 24 in the space of 30 minutes. I was intending to study, but instead of once again putting blogging on the back burner, I chose instead to defer my study . 🙂
Of course the gardens don’t care about the miserable weather, they’ve just carried on doing their stuff. In fact everything is horrifically lush, and it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the weeds and the lawn mowing. Nothing holds the natural world back; last time I posted we were still collecting feijoa and now they’re back in bloom for the next season of fruit.
It’s the same with the avocados. We’re still harvesting the crop from last year’s flowering, while alongside them on the tree, the new baby fruit are starting to set. I guess this at least shows we had some windless days. It’s difficult for bees to pollinate flowers when its blowing a gale.
Fruiting cherries don’t do so well this far north, they like a hard frost, but our two struggling trees still manage to produce some blossom. The same can’t be said for limes. The two lime trees are smothered with flowers, despite being afflicted badly by citrus borer. And there’s nothing nicer than seeing the first plump buds on the pear tree.
This year I was determined to raise all our flowers and vegetables from seed. I’ve had some disappointments – baby plants being dug up by blackbirds, or chewed by beetles, slugs and snails. Some have failed to germinate, but I haven’t give up. Some I clearly put out too early, even though we don’t experience frosts this far north. My earliest gherkins, zucchinis and squashes just sat in the ground looking sorry for themselves before finally curling up and dying. But, I’ve had many more successes than disappointments.
Things we can eat
The broad bean plants were only a few centimetres tall in June, but now we’re consuming their crop. I like to nuke the beans into a paste with a little butter and miso. The plants themselves have grown far taller than we expected. The seed packet suggested staking them at one metre, but they’ve kept on growing, and now reach to over two metres. Every time a wind has howled in from a new direction, we’ve had to scurry outside to re-tie them.
Our tomatoes are many. I think I counted 25 out there. The three varieties I chose to sow this year are Black Krim (a delicious heirloom variety), Bloody Butcher (a good all-rounder) and the cherry tomato, Indigo Blue Berries. The first fruits are forming and I can’t wait to have fresh outdoor tomatoes again. Proper tomatoes. Through most of winter I’ve resisted buying store tomatoes as they just aren’t the same. Tomatoes are just about my favourite plant to grow. They’re so easy, and so versatile, and after having lived in Dunedin for 25 years, I still haven’t quite gotten used to growing them outdoors.
Garlic and Egyptian walking onions
It was April when we put down the groundcover on a complete length of the vegetable garden. This activity certainly paid off and the patch is now home for garlic, onions, lettuces and tomatoes. We’ve mulched them with compost a couple of times already, but it’s already difficult to see where it was. Compost mulches will be critical as the days grow warmer. They protect and feed the plants, and keep the moisture down in the soil when the summer sun is doing its best to evaporate it off.
This grapevine has been slow to get established, unlike the white variety that grows rampantly on the northern side of the barn. The grape is Albany Surprise and in my opinion is far superior to the white grape, due to the sweet and spicy flavour of its juicy bunches. The vine is looking really good this year, with numerous clusters of fruit.
Gardens new and gardens relocated
Ben has dug me a brand new garden – a bed for melons. We’ve tried to grow these before and we just put the plants in the back paddock and left them, assuming they’d survive. Well, they didn’t. Or actually, they did, but I think all they produced was a couple of tiny, tiny fruit. This year we have a dedicated bed filled with compost and in sunlight for most of the day. I’ve raised seedlings of rock and watermelon, and am hoping for the best!
The bed is in the middle of the lawn close to the house so we can easily keep an eye on it, but already the sparrows have been in and have tossed the compost around. Fingers crossed the plants will get their roots going and dig in before they, too, are evicted. Only the rock melons are planted for now; I need twice as much space to fit the watermelons in as well.
Another task we achieved since June was to dig up our congested bed of strawberries. We selected a few strong plants, and replanted them beneath the lemon verbena. We’re hoping that they’ll do better there, especially with the netting cover. Usually our strawberries get picked to pieces by the blackbirds who nest in the trees near the vegetable garden.
One of our three hives failed over winter. We lost the queen, and think that she most likely died of natural causes; she was never a strong queen. We weren’t completely surprised, as even before we confirmed the loss, the hive had very little brood. So we cleaned up the hive and surrounding area and last weekend added the honey boxes to the brood boxes.
The two remaining hives are buzzing! And on days like this the bees are out and about collecting pollen and nectar. There are so many plants in flower this time of year that there’s nothing to hold them back. Standing beneath one of the olive trees, earlier today, all I could hear was the satisfying hum of the bees.
Plants of the flowering kind
My new project has been to clean up and tidy the strip of garden alongside the pathway in front of our kitchen window. It has always been a problem due to a nasty weed (a bulb) that I haven’t been able to eliminate. I’ve been trying for years.
Ben became so fed up at the hours I’ve spent in this small area, that he suggested digging out and removing all of the soil, and replacing it with compost and new soil. It was the best thing we could have done.
I love this new garden and even though it’s still early days and there’s not much flowering there yet, I can see it from the kitchen window and it always cheers me up. An amusing extra is that the compost was filled with seeds from the vegetable garden. Lettuces, dill, coriander, even a couple of tomatoes have sprouted. I doubt that the dill can stay there for long, but I might leave a couple.
I’ve planted the majority of my basil seedlings there, as well as pinks, dahlia, zinnias, poppies, bellis, and viola, so it will be a cottage-cum-kitchen garden. I’m looking forward to posting some photos once the seedlings begin to mature.
Despite the shambles in my various flower beds, it’s still lovely to see the spring flowers. Every flower gives me a good feeling.
Whether it’s the poppies I’ve raised from seed, or the blossom on the fruit trees. Each flower is a promise of something… a pure splash of colour, a beautiful aroma, or a juicy piece of fruit.
I thought I should mention our small native garden. This is situated in an area that was just weeds and junk when we first bought the property. It’s got to the stage now that trees self-sow, and our original specimens are reaching up to the sky.
Not bad for less than ten years of growth!
Garden reality and reminiscing
The garden is still untidy and there’s always more to be done. Sometimes it feels that for every step forward, there are two steps backwards. Once the weather begins to warm, which it’s doing now, everything just takes off.
This time last year I was staying at Mt Maunganui with Dad, and regularly visiting Mum in the rest home. While I was there, I was yearning for my garden, so I can’t complain about the work now.
My love of gardening and of having a garden began when I was a small child. In the early years Dad kept a vegetable garden, and we had fruit trees. From Mum I picked up a love of the beauty of flowers and trees. I regret that Dad never made it back to my garden. I’d always imagined a time when he would see out his last few years here, pottering around doing the outside things he liked to do.
On a garden rake
Dad tows me between the rows.
Moist earth, a bird cries.
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.
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’.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Thank goodness we planted a few Habanero plants in Spring!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Flare of turquoise, flash of emerald swifter than the eye can see glare from windows, crash of impact lifeless body, spirit free
Earlier this evening, a beautiful Kotare flew smack-bang into our living room window. It lay senseless on the grass, and my heart sank. I gently retrieved it and placed it on a bed of soft wood shavings in a clean cardboard box.
When I checked an hour or so later, the body hadn’t moved. It was limp and warm, but clearly, dead. I’d been hoping it was merely stunned, and would wake up, ready to fly (as has happened with other birds that have flown into our windows).
Poor little bird. It lay there so perfectly, its plumage iridescent in the light.
E rere te kōtare
ki runga pūwharawhara
kei mate i te ua.
Fly Kingfisher up onto the clump of Pūwharawhara. Shake the raindrops from your wings lest you catch a chill.
(Verse from Tīhore Mai te Rangi, Hirini Melbourne, c. 1978)
When I arose this morning, the rain that had been coming down steadily all night was like a bead curtain, each string of droplets falling vertically from the leaden grey sky.
Last night had to have been the worst night I’ve experienced this summer, humidity-wise. As I lay on my bed, the covers pushed off onto the floor, I struggled to find a cool patch in the damp mugginess. My hair clung to my head and a patina of moisture coated every patch of exposed skin (in other words, my whole body was dripping). Around 3.30 am, a loud crash roused me from a weird dream about insects. I’d been half aware, earlier, of a few flashes of brightness through my tightly-closed eyelids as I’d tossed and turned, but I’d put that down to my Apple Watch’s display turning on when I moved my arm. For the next hour, an impressive thunder storm rattled the windows and cast brilliant white light into the room. At 4.15 am I detached myself from the damp bed to check the data on our newly-acquired weather station. The results were no surprise: Outside: 22.3 C / 100 % humidity; Inside: 27.6 C / 93% humidity.
I switched on RNZ’s All Night Programme, hungry for an update on how Tonga was faring under the onslaught of Cyclone Gita. The broadcast was broken by static and I imagined having to endure the rain without shelter. In the darkness of a stormy night. With young children or elderly parents. With ferocious winds and terrifying noises. How frightening that would be.
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!
When I looked out from the back porch and saw that glistening curtain of rain, I felt an overwhelming urge to shower outside. So I grabbed soap and shampoo and found a position behind the garage (very private there, especially on such a day) and washed and rinsed myself off out there with only the sparrows and one stray hen for company. A large gush of water was overflowing from the corner of the roof, the guttering unable to cope with the torrent, so I stood directly beneath it to rinse off my hair. It felt good to be out there in the wetness. The water was barely cooler than the air temperature.
71 mm of rain has fallen in the last 24 hours, and of this, 22.5 mm fell in the hour I chose for my outdoor shower. Now it’s getting on for 8.00 pm and the rain has mostly stopped; water is sinking into the grass and draining away. Outside, the cicadas and crickets are once again making a racket. Let’s hope it’s sunny tomorrow.
Tan water flows by
bearing the earth in its grasp
Cows munch undisturbed
This year has been a great season for citrus, and we currently have more limes than we can eat (or drink, for that matter – thinking of the weekend looming and Margaritas on the horizon). We do grate the zest and freeze the juice in cubes for later, but it’s great to actually use these limes while they’re fresh.
With this in mind, I sourced a Panna Cotta recipe online and have adapted it to incorporate this zingy fruit. And for those who need to know, the dessert is Vegan and Gluten-free and it’s a very acceptable 170 calories per serving. Not bad for a dessert!
3 tablespoons of genuine maple syrup (or your sweetener of choice)
2 teaspoons grated lime zest and 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 lime’s worth)
1 bay leaf (I love the flavour of bay in a creamy dessert)
Rubber or silicone spatula
4 small ramekins or jelly moulds (if you wish to turn the panna cottas out, grease them lightly with a plain-tasting oil, e.g., sunflower).
How to make them…
Pour the coconut cream into a saucepan and sprinkle the Jel-it-in on top. Stir until the powder is completely dissolved, then add the bay leaf, the maple syrup, and the lime (zest and juice). Gently bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Allow it to boil for a minute or two, then remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.
Remove the bay leaf. Pour into the four ramekins and let them cool a little more, then cover and refrigerate. I tend to leave them out of the fridge until they are quite cold, so that when I cover them, they don’t steam up inside and cause condensation on the top of the desserts, but it’s no biggie, either way.
You can serve the Panna Cotta garnished with a slice of lime – very tangy! or with whatever you like, really – chopped nuts, sliced fruit, whatever is around.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
Grapes and honey bees
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.
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.
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.
At least the birds are happy now. No longer any risk of being stalked by a furry, grey and white, four‑legged predator. I can hear them chirping away as I type, flitting around in the feijoa trees outside the window on this first sunny day since (it seems like) forever.
Sixteen years is a big chunk of my life. And it feels like she was always there. Peel Street, Wernham Place, Otitori Bay Road… here. Mornington to Birkenhead to French Bay to South Head. Of course I understand that it’s natural to feel these knives of grief in my chest. And I know she was merely a cat, not a child, or a parent, or a friend, or a lover. But the pain is sharper than I’d expected.
Just now, when I was outside checking the garden, with the bright sunlight and a gentle breeze, and the sweet smell of macadamia flowers in the air, I realised that I’m also going to physically miss her actually ‘being around’, not just miss her as my pet.
I don’t mind being alone here; in fact I like it. But up until now, Molly’s always been nearby. Often following me around. Finding me when I’m hanging out the washing, or jumping over the gate to join me when I’m in the vegetable garden, or setting herself down in a sunny spot not far from where I’m weeding. Because of this, I’ve never felt particularly alone out here, even when it’s been just me. And in the evenings, god knows she’d exasperate me by always trying to jump on my lap if I ever sat still for long enough. I’d be wanting to get up and do something and there she’d be. Purring away. Settled.
For the past week or so, she’d gotten back into the habit of sleeping pressed up against the backs of my legs at night. Being a night owl, I’m always the last to muck around and ready myself for bed. I’d turn off all the lights and see Molly, seemingly sound asleep on a dining chair, or on the sofa, or in front of the wood burner when it was cold. But the minute I’d settle into bed with a book, I’d hear a gruff “miaow”, and again, there she’d be. Ready to sleep on whatever item of clothing I’d left on the floor, or to settle herself down beside me. When I couldn’t sleep at night, I’d hear either her loud purr or the sound of her continually cleaning herself. It didn’t help.
And now she’s gone. She was alive at 7.45 am on Tuesday morning when we bundled her into her cat carrier and drove to the vet in Helensville. By 9.00 am she was dead. I didn’t expect it and I wasn’t prepared for it.
Goodbye Molly. If I’d only known, I’d have made such a fuss of you these past few weeks.