Tag Archives: maize

Poutu-te-rangi / March

edge
Dry maize rustles musically in the breeze

From Sweltering Summer to Temperate Autumn

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.)

alpaca
Kumeu A & P Show: curious alpaca & disinterested rooster

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. ūüôā


 Bounty from the Garden

preserves
A selection of home preserves, from left to right: Beetroot; ‘Look Alike’ Lemon Curd; Spicy Tomato Sauce; Zucchini Pickle; Greek Tomato Paste

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.

produce.jpg
A selection of produce, from left to right: white table grapes; cannellino beans; Rhubarb Tarte Tartin

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

toms and peppers
Left to right: tomatoes & onions ready to be cooked for Tomato Relish; red and yellow habanero slices, arranged for drying

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.

Recipes

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 saut√©ing 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.

Habanero

peppers
3 stages of habanero peppers – fresh to dry

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!

Pears

pears
Autumn pears & the finished product

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!

Melons

melons
Melon, ‘Collective Farm Woman’ (Cucumis melo)

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.


 Bantams!

bantams
Our new bantam hens (left) and Charlie

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.


sunrise
Autumn: Looking across The Kaipara at dawn

 

 

 

 

Changing of the Season

 End of Summer

Maize being harvested.
Maize being harvested.

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.

The Garden

This beautiful buttercup squash weighed 3.189 kg.
This beautiful squash, ‘Burgess Buttercup’¬† weighed 3.189 kg.

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.

Fruit

A scattering of fruit; Feijoa and Guava.
A scattering of fruit; Feijoa and Guava.

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.

A pair of kererŇę in the yellow guava.
A pair of kereru in the yellow guava.

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.

Juicy pears.
Juicy pears.

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.

Vegetables

peppers
Capsicum, Eggplant and Chillies.

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.

Chilli peppers strung up in the barn.
Our new seasons’ chilli peppers strung up in the barn.

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.

Field mushrooms, freshly-picked this morning.
Field mushrooms, freshly-picked this morning.

They’ll be great sauteed in butter and stirred through some freshly made pasta.

After the Harvest

What's left after the harvester has done its job.
What’s left after the harvester has done its job.

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!

The maize field is now stark against the sky.
The maize field is now stark against the sky.

May Update

Harvesting the maize
Harvesting the maize

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.

field

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.

a typical crack opening in our lawn
a typical crack opening in our lawn

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.

Cherry Guava, Yellow Guava, Pear, Feijoa
Cherry Guava, Yellow Guava, Pear, Feijoa

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 Рwhich attract the Kereru.  Our macadamia nuts are also on the point of being ready.

Red shavers taking a dust bath
Red shavers taking a dust bath (prior to Lottie’s departure)

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.

Fatima
Fatima

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.

Freshly laid eggs
Freshly laid eggs

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.

Pine Nut (family Pinaceae, genus Pinus)
Pine Nut (family Pinaceae, genus Pinus)

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!

Lake Rototoa, May 2014
Lake Rototoa, May 2014

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.

Garden Diary

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.

Christmas, the New Year & Preserves

ImageThe beautiful vermillion-flowering gum, Corymbia ficifolia is in full bloom along our fence-line.  Every time I catch sight of it I am amazed by the blaze of colour it produces.

Christmas and New Year

The days leading in to Christmas and the New Year were filled with all the tasks associated with having 13 family members arrive for Christmas dinner.¬† This involved a large amount of cooking and tidying up, right from when we knocked off work on December 20th.¬† It’s only now that I feel I can relax a little and enjoy the remaining 5 days of my summer holidays.

The early Summer weather has been extremely changeable – very warm and humid, with summer showers on most days.¬† Not the gentle kind, but rather, heavy downpours that move on as quickly as they have arrived.¬† This time last year we were experiencing the beginnings of a drought that lasted for several months.¬† The rain may be annoying on days when we want to lie in the sun or take a dip in the pool, but it’s been amazing for the garden.

Preserving our sanity

With all the vegetables and fruit ripening around us, I’ve been itching to fill our shelves with preserves.¬† We tend to freeze a lot of produce, but there’s nothing quite as satisfying as cooking up a range of jams, sauces, chutneys and pickles.¬† I didn’t do anything about this last year, but was determined to not waste any scrap of food if I could help it, this year. I had come across reference to electric water baths for preserving produce, and this seemed a much better alternative to that of boiling jars in a big preserving pan on the stove top.¬† I searched and searched online to see if such an appliance could be purchased from anywhere in New Zealand, to no avail.

In the end, I had to spread my net wider and look to our neighbours across the Tasman for this very desirable piece of equipment.   We ordered a Kensington Food Preserver from Ozfarmer just prior to Christmas, and it arrived within the week.  This was surprisingly good service, given the distance and the fact that it was the Christmas period Рa time when the mail service is already disrupted.

I have now used the preserver three times!¬† It’s so much easier to just load it up with my filled jars, turn it on, set the temperature, then leave it for the requisite amount of time.¬† I’ve been startled at the cost of the preserving jars and lids, however!

Since Christmas I’ve made batches of Plum Sauce, Plum Chutney, Corn Relish and Zucchini Pickle.

Corn

Our back paddock is rented by one of our neighbours (David) and used to grow sweet corn for the Christmas market.¬† What usually happens is that the pickers come through prior to Christmas to harvest the best and fattest ears, after which we are allowed to literally ‘help ourselves’.¬† Last year we froze several kilograms of corn, which lasted us well into the winter.¬† We scrape the kernels off the cobs and freeze them free-flow.

Yesterday, Ben picked 85 ears and plans to pick at least the same amount tomorrow.  Fortunately, a sunny day is forecast, as I like to think that our solar panels are producing lovely free power while we are boiling away water on the stove to blanch the kernels.

ImageI took the above photo earlier this evening – it was around 7.00 pm with the sun low in the sky to the west.¬† The amount of weeds growing up around the corn can be seen, but these are mostly grasses.¬† David has been experimenting with reducing his use of weed killers this year, which has relieved me greatly.¬† There is now a good deal of overseas data published to alert us to the¬† issues around the ongoing use of glyphosate.¬† Glyphosate is commonly used in New Zealand to ‘clean up’ pasture prior to planting crops and resistance to glyphosate has now been observed in New Zealand, as well.

Maize growing over our fence.
Maize growing over our fence.

Across the road there is a dairy farm, but our 3 acres is surrounded on all the other sides by fields of maize.¬† This year the maize seems to have grown incredibly tall and is so densely-planted that you can barely walk between the rows.¬† The maize won’t be harvested until April, by which time the kernels will have dried to the colour of rich gold.

Leila and Lottie thinking about sampling the corn
Leila and Lottie thinking about sampling the corn

Leila, Lottie and Lulu are a bit slow on the uptake.¬† When Ben threw them some cobs of corn that had been scraped, they just looked at them suspiciously.¬† It was some time before one of the hens decided to stab a cob with a tentative peck.¬† Even now, they aren’t that keen – unlike our previous three girls.

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