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 was incredibly windy on Tuesday, with strong gusts blowing in from the west all day. It was also very sunny.
Today, the wind is still howling and it’s bringing torrents of rain every 30 minutes or so. It’s noticeably cooler, too.
Yesterday was a great day for the garden, despite the wind. I’d decided to dedicate a decent amount of time to tidying up and sowing some more seeds, so started around 9.30 am.
The first thing I had to do was re-tie the young tomato plants to their stakes. They are hardening up nicely and the first two I planted out are flowering, but some of the spindlier ones were definitely being battered by the wind.
I then set to work tidying up a patch of the garden that had some bolting lettuces. After pulling them out and sifting through the soil, I sowed a second row of Edamame and a row of the heirloom carrot, ‘Touchon‘. I was reassured to see that despite the dryness of the surface, there’s still evidence of moist soil about a trowel’s depth in.
The wonderful South Head growing conditions that produce so many vegetables, also produce weeds that grow with alarming vigour and scatter their seeds all year round. And there is never a frost to kill anything off.
The vegetables are providing us with choices each day – it’s a matter of juggling between them all and trying to work out what we particularly feel like eating for any given meal.
In the past week we’ve enjoyed Silverbeet, Asparagus, Kale, Lettuce (not just the green variety), Rocket, Broad Beans, Red Cabbage and Peas.
I couldn’t say which is my favourite, though I do love to have asparagus spikes every other day of the week at this time of year.
Close behind would be fresh peas, and tender young broad beans are wonderful, mashed up with butter and a little garlic.
And I found a really easy (and yummy) recipe for Red Cabbage – so we’ve cooked this up a couple of times. I think this is on the menu for tonight, actually. Sautéed Red Cabbage.
The Florence Fennel has been putting on a good deal of growth. Fingers crossed they won’t bolt before forming their bulbs. We’ve had good crops for several years now, and one that went straight to seed.
You can see dried Lilly Pilly leaves in all my photos. They seem to fall at all times of the year and I’m always scraping them out of the garden in an attempt to keep it looking tidy. But I guess I’ll never have a tidy garden as the slightest breeze sends them showering back down.
Runner Beans and Lettuces
The runner beans seem a bit slow. Ben put in some ‘King of the Blues Runner’ in between the Scarlet Runners from last year. Scarlet Runners are perennial, although most people tend to pull them out at the end of the season and put in new seeds the following year.
Growing in front of them are a few lettuces and some self-sown Viola Tricolor (Heart’s Ease).
Potatoes and Sweet Corn
I poked around beneath the soil by one of the early potatoes and was pleased to see at least one beautiful new potato. It was quite a good size for an ‘early’ so I’m hopeful that we may have better luck this year with growing spuds.
Ben hasn’t been so lucky with his sweet corn, though. He sowed a whole packet and only two sprouted. It’s hard to know if it’s something in the soil, or our friendly blackbirds have been in and dug them out. It’s disappointing and exasperating, but given that our back paddock has been sowed in a commercial crop of sweet corn and that we always get to help ourselves after the first picking, I’m philosophical about it.
I don’t think we’ll bother to try to grow sweet corn again. (We did have a really good crop the first year we were here.)
I’ll be glad to have these as I’ve had bad luck with trying to grow regular onions. The seeds have struck well enough, but have been dug up by birds before becoming properly established.
Our Silverbeet is amazing. These plants are a couple of years old, but don’t seem to want to go to seed. They have actual trunks now – somewhat like pyramids, with the leaves forming in a circle around the upper edges.
A week or so ago I pulled off all the ratty leaves, thinking that we’d be pulling the plants out soon. They responded by sending out new glossy leaves, immaculate. We had to cook some up last night just to work our way through them. The ribs are so wide and the leaves so large that we can’t eat both.
Strawberries and Bananas
The strawberries have been coming along well. The problem with them (is there a common theme, here?) has been the blackbird hen. And probably a few other birds as well.
Each morning I’d go down to the garden only to find sharp pecks in the strawberries – even before they’d ripened properly. I’m sure the hens were happy, though, as I’d throw them all the half-pecked fruit which they’d eat avidly.
Ben’s built a clever frame with netting to keep the birds off, so the berries are having a chance to ripen and be eaten by humans, rather than birds. We’ve probably picked around a kilogram so far.
The bananas are also looking good. They seem to be forming better than the ones from earlier in the year – perhaps due to the improved growing conditions. It’s warm, and we’ve had a good deal of rain compared to a year ago.
Blackbirds and Feijoa Flowers
Speaking of the blackbird hen, she’s back on the nest again! This is the same nest she used to raise her last batch – built inside a small Sweet Bay tree situated within our fenced-off vegetable garden area.
I took the above photo yesterday and had to poke the camera in quite far as it was so windy that the branches were being rocked and shaken.
As you can see, she stares steadily out at you, but doesn’t budge. Not that I’d want her to – and I tried to be as quick as I could as I’d hate to put her off her task.
Despite the damage the birds do to our garden we do love having them here. They are so tame and so pretty.
We regularly see two or three young birds from her first brood. They have grown from chubby little birds with short tail feathers and speckled breasts, to much sleeker specimens. And where originally they weren’t very skilled at flying, they are now adept.
We don’t see the male (father) blackbird very often, but the hen and young ones are often in the Feijoa, eating the crimson flowers. I was worried about this until I read that birds eating the petals help pollinate the flowers. However, it seems to me that the birds not only eat the petals but destroy the whole flower. Often the complete flower drops to the ground and the bird will fly down and finish it off there. I guess time will tell.
The other thing I read with interest is that the fleshy petals of the Feijoa flower are edible and can be sprinkled in salads, etc. I decided to check this out this morning (even though I didn’t want to remove a potential Feijoa) and can confirm that they have a pleasant taste. They are more fleshy than they look, so have a bit of texture to them, and have a delicate sweet and spicy flavour. No wonder the birds like them!
Here’s another member of the Bromeliad family that is currently looking good in the garden. I love the way water collects in the centre of the leaves.
Neoregelia are native to the South American rain forests. I’m pretty sure that this particular specimen is Neoregelia ‘Everlasting’.
I haven’t written for a while, but items of note include the harvesting of the maize in the paddock next door, way back at the beginning of April. The big machines came powering through, collecting the complete plants, discarding the husks and stalks, and feeding out golden maize kernels into the waiting truck.
Left behind is a flattish, spiky field, stretching into the distance. We’ve had no strong winds from the North or West since then, but when they do come, we’ll miss the shelter that the maize provided for the plants and shrubs we are trying to establish along the fence-line.
The months of March and April were incredibly dry, after almost no rain since January. Patches of bare soil were beginning to crack all across the garden.
There wasn’t much happening in the vege garden – only silver beet, pumpkins, a few lettuces, some jalapeno and habanero chili peppers, basil, beetroot and carrots. We had switched to lake water to conserve the water in our tanks and were using the latter for drinking, only.
Surprisingly, our Autumn fruit has been more productive than at the same time in 2013. We ate the last of the pears, and the feijoa are still dropping, even a month later. They are very sweet and juicy. There are also red cherry guava and yellow guava – which attract the Kereru. Our macadamia nuts are also on the point of being ready.
The hens still spend a great deal of time bathing in the dust, or lying under the shade of the trees. They continue to make huge basin-shaped hollows all through my gardens. But they are very cute and I’m still intrigued to watch them taking their dust baths.
The above photo was taken of the edge of the lawn where it comes up to the flower garden below the Feijoa trees. I use the word ‘garden’ very loosely, thanks to the hens and the lack of rain.
The Orpingtons don’t tend to take their baths in the same place or at the same time as the Red Shavers. They’ll often wait until the older girls are finished, then hop in after them.
The good news is that the Orpingtons are now laying, but the bad news is that Lottie (one of our red shavers) has gone. She had a bad habit of disappearing across the road to – goodness knows where – on a daily basis, and one day she just didn’t come back. I fear the worst – run over by a milk truck or caught by a hawk or dog, but perhaps she has merely found a better place to live.
As far as the eggs are concerned, the small eggs weigh about 50 grams, whereas the eggs from Lulu and Leila weigh around 75 grams. I have been very disappointed that the White Orpingtons don’t lay pure white eggs – I was so sure that they would.
Our small Pine Nut tree is finally producing some cones. We’ve had this small tree since we lived in Titirangi. It was purchased in a pot for a Christmas Tree, and fared very badly under all the kauri trees due to the paucity of sunlight. Pine Nuts take about 8 years to produce cones – which would be about right. Apparently the cones take two full seasons to mature. It’s very exciting!
There has been scattered rain in May, and the days tend to start out sunny, before fat cumulus clouds build up in the afternoon. The temperature in May has ranged from around 13 C overnight, to low 20s during the day.
We have swum in the lake as recently as a week ago – which is quite unexpected for this time of year.
My current daily garden tasks involve tidying up all the vegetable garden beds in preparation for planting garlic and sowing more seeds. I’ve recently sown lettuces, leeks, spinach, carrots, beetroot, rocket, radishes, parsnips and celery. I raised seedlings of broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower and have since planted these out. It was too hot and dry to sow the seeds directly during March / April.
I’ve also planted a dozen Egyptian Walking Onions. I was delighted to see bulbs for sale recently as I used to grow them years ago in Dunedin. Perhaps I’ll have more luck with these than I have with trying to grow regular onions from seed.