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.
We’ve had so many plums this season, despite the wind that destroyed so many in mid-December. I’ve been making ‘Plum Everything’, including having started a batch of plum wine. But I think there is nothing nicer than a Plum Jam, as it’s so versatile.
This year I decided to invent a spicy version – and it’s turned out extremely well.
For the spicy component I used Habanero that I’d grown last season and had frozen, as our current plant is too small to produce any fruit yet. It’s been a slow season in the garden due to the inclement weather in December.
Habanero is my absolute favourite chili pepper. It has such an amazing flavour – very fragrant and fruity, as well as the excellent kick it provides (it rates as 100,000 to 350,000 on the Scoville Scale).
This jam is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s definitely worth making. It can be added to sauces or used as a condiment just as it is, or (of course) spread on your toast as a rich and spicy jam.
About 5.5 kilos (around 12 lbs) red-skinned plums, stones removed
3 – 4.5 cups white sugar
4 whole Habanero, seeds removed
Chop the plums up roughly and put them in a large preserving pan. Sprinkle the sugar on top and let them sit like this for an hour or so, stirring from time to time to help the sugar dissolve.
Bring this slowly to the boil, stirring at frequent intervals to prevent anything sticking to the base of the pan. Once boiling steadily, maintain the boil for about 10 minutes then turn off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Repeat the above process 3 times (or more if you would like a thicker jam). The main thing to remember is that you have to stir frequently, especially while you are waiting for the fruit to come to the boil, to avoid the fruit sticking to the bottom of the pan and scorching.
If this does happen, don’t panic… transfer the jam to another container without scraping any of the ‘caught’ jam from the bottom of the pan. Wash the pan then carry on with the process. You can stop and start with this recipe easily.
This batch produced about 3 litres of wonderfully rich jam. Actually, I could just eat it directly from the spoon, rather than add it to anything else. 🙂
Red Plums versus Yellow Plums
You could use yellow-skinned plums for this recipe, or even greengages, but the red-skinned plums give the jam the most wonderfully rich colour, even using yellow-fleshed plums as I have.
I began with 3.5 cups of sugar and then tested the flavour part way through the cooking. It was then that I decided to add an additional .5 of a cup. It’s a matter of personal taste and also, the sugar level in the plums themselves. Also, I like to cut down added sugar where I can, so I tend to start out with a bit less in a recipe such as this, and then add more if I need to.
The above recipe has been adapted from a recipe I found on the Natasha’s Kitchen site.
We were away from South Head from Saturday morning until Sunday early evening, and while we were gone, a very strong south-easterly wind developed. The prevailing wind for our area is supposed to be a southerly, but in actual fact, a straight southerly doesn’t really affect our property due to the fact that there is a convenient rise in the land that protects us. We do sometimes get a nor-easterly. While this is annoying, we’ve put things in place to protect our vulnerable plants – sturdy stakes and protective shelter material… that kind of thing. But this south-easterly is coming in from an angle we haven’t experienced before.
When I hung out the washing earlier I had to use twice as many pegs per garment. It reminded me of trying to wrestle with cloth nappies in Lyall Bay, Wellington, back in the 70s.
I was too exhausted last night to look at the garden, but the first intimation I had that all was not well was when Ben reported that nearly all the fruit had been blown off from my favourite plum tree. This is the plum tree in what we now term our ‘native’ area – it’s an old tree that has less plums than the one growing closer to the vege garden. But the plums are larger and have a deep red flesh.
I love them and have been looking forward to eating them.
When I went out earlier this morning to take stock, I felt like crying.
And I do still have a heavy heart, but I suppose there is no point in shedding tears over lost fruit. At least we aren’t dependent on our fruit or our crops for our livelihood.
Fortunately, the other plum tree is situated out of the worst of the wind. It’s still laden with fruit.
The wind has has had an impact on the birds that have chosen to make their homes here, as well. I’m sure they were just as unprepared for the wind’s unusual direction.
We’ve found quite a few parts of nests on the ground, and the sparrows are busy with recycling; flying down to collect the broken nest parts from the ground and carrying them back up to their respective nesting sites.
Ben found the above nest below the macadamia tree, although it’s so light that it could have blown from anywhere.
It’s quite a bit smaller than any I’ve seen on the ground before. The diameter of the inner bowl is approximately 4.5 to 5 cm and it’s lined with silvery grey hair of some kind. I pulled a couple of strands out and it’s too coarse to be human or from a cat. And I think too long to be from a dog… I’m wondering if it’s horse hair or something like that. I really have no idea.
It’s a beautiful little nest, though, with moss and lichen woven in to the outside.
The above nest is much more loosely-woven than the smaller one. It’s also quite a bit larger – around 9 to 10 cm across the bowl of the nest. We’re pretty sure it belonged to either a blackbird or a song thrush. We could only see the tail of the bird sticking up when it was sitting on, it as it was just out of eye sight.
The nest had been built in quite a small, spindly broad-leaf, and right from the start was partly tipping out, so it’s not surprising that it was dislodged by the wind. This nest is constructed almost entirely from grasses, with a tiny bit of lichen visible… and it seems to be lined with fine mud.
Our resident Blackbird couple are raising their third batch of eggs this season. The female is currently sitting on three eggs – I had first observed her back on the nest on 09 December, which surprised me. Raising young seemed to be a never-ending process for her and I wasn’t sure if was because something had happened to her previous babies or whether she would keep on raising new broods if time allowed.
With her second batch I had noted the following: –
19 November: 2 whole eggs, 2 hatched
20 November: 4 hatched
02 December: 4 chicks, well feathered and alert
03 December: Nest empty
It seems amazing to me that it only took 13 days to go from hatching to flight.
I found an excellent page which provided me with the answers on the Tiritiri Matangi site. It seems that Blackbirds do raise 2 – 3 broods per year, and that the chicks fledge at 13 – 15 days. The other interesting fact I read is that a Blackbird’s possible lifespan is 15 years.
The garden has been flourishing, and as usual, I’ve been struggling to keep on top of things. There has been more rain in November & December in comparison with the past couple of years, which is a good thing. We’ve only had to water the vegetable garden once, and that very evening it rained, so …
We’re been well-served by our vegetables and have been eating asparagus, beetroot, silver beet, green beans, peas, lettuces, rocket, new potatoes and Florence fennel. Probably some other things as well but it’s hard to keep up.
I can’t finish today’s entry without putting in a plug for Sweet Peas. I was very disappointed with the strike rate for the seeds I sowed in winter. I had used up a whole packet but only a handful of seeds germinated.
Well… the ones that did sprout, combined with a few self-sown plants, have provided a wonderful display once again. I’m sure the extra rain has helped, too.
I love these flowers and every other day have picked enough to fill two vases. Even as I sit here writing I can smell their sweet and spicy scent from across the room.
My daughter Immi approaches writing quite differently from me. Apparently I’m a ‘Pantser‘ and this is quite true. When I start a story I really don’t have much of an idea of where it’s going to end up.
I said I’d post a link when my short story, Water Baby, was published, so here it is…
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’.