Tag Archives: costasta romanesco

Too Many Grapes – Never Enough Tomatoes

Garden Gone Wild

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

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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.

DahliaCactus Colour Spectacle‘ growing against the old fence.

Zucchini Pickle



  • 500 grams zucchini, very finely sliced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp plain salt
  • 500 ml cider vinegar
  • 140 grams caster sugar
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp celery seeds
  • habanero pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric


Thinly slice the zucchinis using a sharp knife or a mandolin.  Place these in a bowl with the finely-chopped onion and sprinkle with the salt.  Cover with ice-cold water, stir to dissolve the salt, and leave for 1 hour.  Drain the zucchini well and pat dry using a clean tea towel.


While the zucchini are soaking, add the vinegar, sugar, mustard powder, mustard seeds, celery seeds, habanero and ground turmeric to a preserving pan and bring to a simmer.  Allow to bubble for 3 minutes, stirring to ensure the sugar is dissolved, then allow to cool until just warm.  Add the zucchinis and stir.

Add the pickle to sterilised jars.  I then used the water bath method to finish off this recipe.


This will make approximately 1 litre of the pickle.  For this recipe I used the zucchini, Costasta Romanesco as it’s the only zucchini I grow these days.  Not only does it produce the huge male flowers useful for stuffing and deep frying, but the texture and flavour of the flesh is far superior to that of regular zucchini.

Adapted from the ‘Crunchy Courgette Pickle’ recipe, posted on the BBC Good Food website.


Pumpkins and cherry slugs

We’ve had a few sunny days in a row and this has been reflected in the growth in the pumpkin & squash patch.  This year, I raised three varieties from seed and they are all doing really well (‘Thelma Saunders Sweet Potato’, ‘Burgess Buttercup’ and ‘Butternut Chieftain’).  There are quite a few pumpkins set already, some growing quite round and fat.  We planted and sowed most of our cucurbits in the native garden this year, and already I can see that it was a very sensible choice.  In previous years we’ve tried the back paddock (too dry and windy), in the main vegetable garden (too invasive) and on the grass in front of the barn (became overgrown with grass).  The native garden is sheltered and sunny, with very rich loamy soil.  The worst two weeds are convolvulus and madeira vine.  But I feel that I can control these two by digging them out when they come up and either leaving in the sun to shrivel up (convolvulus) or putting out in the rubbish collection (madeira vine).

Our zucchini ‘Costasta Romanesco‘ is huge, the fat yellow and green fruit remind me of smooth alien guinea pigs.  The hens have stirred up the wood chips around them and the zucchinis are difficult to find until they have grown too big for my liking.  Costasta Romanesco is a variety grown especially for their huge male flowers, which can be stuffed, coated in batter and deep fried.  But the zucchinis themselves also taste really good sliced thickly and fried in olive oil with sage leaves – they are much starchier than the commonly-grown zucchinis, with a lovely nutty flavour, and the sage leaves turn all crispy.

Ben has been collecting plums by the tray load, halving them and freezing them free flow.  This particular old prunus was here when we moved in and is quite gnarly and covered in lichen.  There wasn’t much fruit last year in comparison with 2011, but this year it is completely laden with beautiful red-skinned, golden-fleshed plums.  They taste the best if you can pick them when they turn purple but before they drop to the ground.  Each morning when we let the hens out, they hurry over to feast on the plums that have fallen over night.  There are more than we can keep up with.  I eat them whenever I walk past the tree but it barely makes a difference.  In the past we’ve made plum wine and plum sauce.  At least if we manage to freeze a good deal of them, I’ll still have the option to do this when life isn’t so busy.

Cherry slugs on my cherry Stella
Cherry slugs on my cherry Stella

The big shock yesterday was when I discovered that the leaves of our tiny dwarf cherry tree ‘Stella’ were covered in slimy little slugs.  We picked them all off and offered them to the hens, but they weren’t interested.  I later identified them as larvae of the sawfly (caliroa cerasi).  Many of the leaves had been converted over night from healthy green to lacy brown.  Thank goodness I do tend to walk around the complete garden on a daily basis.  When I checked again this morning there was only a solitary slug, so it seems that the crisis has been averted.

White-tailed Spider
White-tailed Spider

I also saw my very first ‘white-tailed’ spider, (Lampona spp.)  I’m always looking for different and interesting bugs and plants so when I saw this particular spider sitting near the ceiling of our porch, I rushed to fetch my camera and a stool.  I had to get really close up to take the photo and was surprised when I saw the white tip on its abdomen when I looked at the image later on.  There is quite a bit of negative hype about these spiders, but from what I have read, they are somewhat maligned.

It’s been a good day for power generation.  At the time of writing (7.30 pm), our 2KW system has generated just under 14KWh.  It has been a very hot and calm day, with the temperature ranging from 18C when I arose at 7.30 am and reaching over 30C in the sheltered patch by the bromeliad garden at around 3.00 pm this afternoon.  The sweet corn is ripening in the paddock behind the barn and the maize that stretches away to the north is very tall and lush.

Sitting here I can see across the Kaipara to the East.  The distant hills are a hazy blue grey, sandwiched between the palest blue sky and the silvery forget-me-not blue of the water.  In the foreground are our harakeke, which have flowered for the first time, sending straight spurs of rusty red flowers towards the sky.

Tomorrow I have to head to Wellington for an overnight meeting.  A major garden task for when I return will be to attempt to sort out part of our vegetable garden that is filled with scattered sweet-corn plants (a blackbird hen dug up most of them), self-sown Cleome (I want to plant these around the climbing beans), a few pumpkins and squashes, and other self-sown vegetables.  We are going to try to move all the corn to one end before they get too tall, rescue the Cleome and make some sense of the array of other vegetables that are growing there.