New Zealand’s total number of Covid-19 cases has now reached 1440, with 9 new cases in the past twenty-four hours. The end of our Level 4 lock-down had been penciled-in for midnight this coming Wednesday. Instead it’s been pushed back until midnight on the following Monday – a week from tonight. And even that could change.
Time under lockdown conditions has certainly rattled on by, although I’m not sure why I chose that particular verb, as not much has been rattling hereabouts. To say that it’s been very quiet would be an understatement. But life has changed, despite this. For starters, the days have grown shorter, as New Zealand has gone off daylight savings, which means the mornings are a little lighter, and the evenings noticeably darker. And I’m starting to discern that my father’s days are also beginning to contract.
The same questions run through my mind. How to measure the precious remaining moments? How to support without being over-bearing? How to help without being intrusive? A month ago I didn’t really understand what was at stake. I worried that he’d wear himself out working on one of his projects in the garage, or digging rubble in the garden… but now… now that he can no longer do those things, I wish that he still could, and that I’d rejoiced about it instead of fretting.
I heard on TV today that it takes a certain number of days – 66, I think – for a person to grow accustomed to a new routine. But I’ve already grown into the strange unhurried ways of this new existence. This slowing down.
I burn the midnight oil writing or studying, and sleep late in the mornings. I spend my days doing the chores, making up parcels for Mum, walking, thinking, and hanging out with Dad. He and I laugh a lot, but also share sad moments, especially when one of his poignant memories bubbles up to the surface. Sometimes it all makes sense, and at others, it makes no sense at all.
We’d really like to take a mini road trip together. To head up home to South Head for a couple of nights. I’m still hoping that this can happen.
Dried leaves of Autumn
lie scattered by the roses.
New Zealand’s total number of Covid-19 cases has now reached 1160, with 54 new cases in the past twenty-four hours. The nation is holding its breath to see if this is the beginning of a leveling-out. Each day we listen to the 1.00 pm update to hear the announcement of our new numbers. It’s a crisis for small businesses, and lonely for those of us parted from family and loved ones. We’re desperately hoping that it will all be worth it.
Having got that off my chest, life goes on as usual.
I’ve had a quiet day, feeling tired and disinterested in venturing out. It’s crazy with such beautiful, autumn weather and the beach so close, but sometimes it’s just too much effort.
The barometer is dropping with rain promised for tomorrow afternoon. With this in mind, I forced myself out for a walk after tea. Now that daylight savings has reverted, it’s already dark by 7.00 pm and tonight I started by walking to the beach so that I could see my beautiful friend, おつきさま, otsukisama,shining across the Bay of Plenty. (That was me practicing my Japanese, by the way.)
From the beach I walked north-west along Marine Parade until just parallel with Motuotau Island, then turned back into the town centre. It was calm and mild with a slight breeze. The main street was deserted, but extremely well-lit.
I listen to music when I walk, and this dispels the eeriness of the empty city. But the lights still shine – fluorescent, neon and LED, their sharp and often brilliant colours reflected in the polished shop windows and on the glossy leaves of the palms.
When I returned home, Dad was asleep on the sofa with the TV blaring. I eased the fridge door open and poured a glass of rosé. I’m sure that my alcohol consumption since being in lock down has counteracted any value gained by walking.
Today’s Haiku… written earlier today.
In a pool of sun
my father lies fast asleep
Walking in the past
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.
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.)
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
It’s definitely Autumn. As I sit at my computer I can hear the rumble and whirr of the combined maize harvester driving along the paddock adjacent to our property. As it moves down the rows, capturing everything in its path and discarding all but the individual maize kernels, great clouds of dust rise around it.
The wind has picked up this afternoon and is blowing in from the north… It was supposed to rain, and perhaps it still will, but right now it’s a mixture of bright sunlight and racing clouds.
Clean Up Tasks
It’s the time of year for clean-up and maintenance tasks in the garden. The squash and pumpkins are ready to be cut from their vines and stored in a dry and airy place.
The twisted brown tomato stalks need to be pulled out and burned, along with the remains of our former passion fruit vine.
I made the decision to remove the vine after it had finished cropping, due to it being afflicted with disease. It has been incredibly productive this year, and I’m sure we have eaten more than 200 individual passion fruit. So, it was with a heavy heart that I cut it away from the fence yesterday. All that is left is to dig the roots out of the soil.
Plump feijoa and red and yellow guava are strewn on the grass outside our kitchen window; an array of yellow, green and red baubles.
While the guava are quite definitely edible, now that the feijoa are ready they won’t get a look in with me. Back in Spring when the blackbirds were stripping the petals from the flowers, I could not have imagined that the trees would be so heavily-laden.
For several days we’ve had two plump kereru camped out in the fruit trees. At night they seem to seek refuge in the golden totara, but by day they stay in the yellow guava, gorging on the fruit (they can swallow the guava whole!) or just sitting still in the sun.
We’ve also had many pears. The only problem is getting to them before the blackbirds! But if we go out early in the day we can usually rescue most of them.
For the first time, we’ve had eggplants that have grown to maturity and we’ve had an amazing crop of capsicum. I’m hoping that these will keep cropping until May or June. We also have abundant habanero and one other (unidentified) chilli pepper. This latter plant came from a packet of chilli ‘Caribbean Blend’ so I’m not really sure what it is. We sampled it (with trepidation), and although it was hot, it didn’t seem as hot as a habanero, nor did it have the beautiful floral flavour that a habanero has.
As you can see from the photo above, I’m going to dry the chillies this year. We have such a huge chest freezer, that even with the baskets at the top, we tend to lose track of small things. It will be interesting to see if I’m successful or not. I thought it would be great to grind them up and use them with a pepper shaker.
This morning I took a bucket to the farm across the road and collected some field mushrooms. Yum!!! These are my favourite funghi. They have such a rich taste in comparison with button mushrooms purchased from the supermarket.
They’ll be great sauteed in butter and stirred through some freshly made pasta.
After the Harvest
The harvester has finished in the field. All that is left behind are the husks and a few dried leaves. It’ll be tough for the small shrubs we have on the fence-line, especially now that the wind is coming from the north. For a good six months they’ve been sheltered by the maize!
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.
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.
The vegetables we’ve been consuming the most of, lately, have been tomatoes, turnips and zucchinis.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
Passion fruit and Plums
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
It seems ages since I’ve posted anything. February has been so busy and now that it’s almost over, I can’t think where the days went to. The sun is rising noticeably later and setting noticeably earlier. The temperature range is still in the high 20s to low 30s Celsius, but there is the ‘smell’ of Autumn in the air. It has been extremely humid, and almost unbearable for sleeping at night. During the hottest parts of the day I still stay inside where it’s shady and much cooler.
The maize in the paddock next door has dried to a pale golden colour and rattles in the wind. The days are loud with the clicking of cicadas, and the nights with the more musical chirping of black field crickets.
Much has been happening in the garden, including our banana flowering for the first time, tomatoes, tomatoes and more tomatoes, and a very good crop of garlic. It’s been extremely dry, and sadly, I fear that some of the newer small shrubs may have been lost – many are looking very dry and shriveled up and it’s just about impossible to water them as the earth has become so dry and hard. Large cracks are spreading in some places, and there are many patches where the grass has completely dried off. The pumpkins and squashes are dying back and we’ve given up on our zucchinis. There have been just too many of them.
In the vegetable garden, our best crops at the moment are basil, peas, silver beet, the last tomatoes, beetroot and chilli peppers. We have a new batch of scarlet runners that look pretty healthy and the passion fruit are dropping from the vine. I am always amazed at how lushly basil grows, even when it’s so dry.
Banana ‘Mons Mari’
The most exciting development has been our banana ‘Mons Mari‘ flowering for the very first time. I observed the very first spike of purple (which was the beginning of the flower stalk) on Monday 03 February.
This plant has been in our garden since April 2011 – I realise now that we didn’t plant it in a very good place – it’s exposed to the wind from the North and is also in very poor soil.
The flower stalk appears out of the centre once the plant is fully grown, hanging down as the flower develops. The male flower develops at the end of the flower stalk creating a bell, with the female flowers spiralling around the stem.
Nevertheless, it has produced an amazing flower stalk of small bananas with more still forming. We counted 170 the last time we checked – and remarkably this is only 3 weeks or so since the flower first appeared.
We’ve had so many tomatoes that I couldn’t keep up with picking them. The most successful have been the heirloom varieties, ‘Cherokee Purple‘, ‘Black Krim‘ and ‘Black from Tula‘, and the cherry tomato, ‘Suncherry’.
The latter have been dropping to the ground like berries and to be honest, we haven’t kept up with them. I also grew ‘Bloody Butcher‘ and this was a very nice, smaller tomato, but nothing really beats the taste of the big beauties. Some of the tomatoes were tunneled into by caterpillars, but not too badly. And this year all have ripened, so I won’t be making any Green Tomato Chutney.
I’ve ended up turning just about all the excess tomatoes (and there have been kilos of them!) into tomato concentrate and tomato sauces. I’m really pleased with a couple of recipes, so will post these in the near future.
This year is the first time I’ve tired making tomato concentrate. I tried two recipes – a plain one and a Greek version. The taste of both, compared with the tomato paste you can purchase commercially, is far superior. Sweet, tangy, fragrant and rich with the flavour of tomatoes that have been ripening in the sun.
I’ve grown garlic for three years now at South Head and this is the best crop I’ve harvested. There are more than 30 bulbs, a few of which I’ve left in the ground to mature a little longer.
I’ve read that garlic grows to its own conditions, which means that each year, if you use cloves from your own crop, the results will be better. I love it that I can grow enough garlic to last an entire year. We were literally turning the last of our 2013 garlic cloves into paste on the same day as we lifted the first bulb for 2014.