Molly’s curled up by the fire. A rounded hummock not unlike the curved mound of a hill, although grey and white, not green. The kind of hill that catches the eye while driving past. Something about the shape so pleasing that you have to look back.
Oh Molly! You’re growing old and I wonder that you still look the same. Or almost. No tail of course. That fluffy appendage dislocated from your body (we think) by a dog, eighteen months ago. The nub of your spine still twitches when I pat you.
Your life has run alongside mine for so many years. Through relationship changes, children turning to adults, and the rotation of the seasons. From the bracing frosts of Dunedin, to the humid summers up here on The Kaipara.
We began our journey in Mornington and ended up at South Head, with brief stints in Birkenhead and Titirangi. From hilltop to suburbia, from dense kauri to verdant farmland. We’ve negotiated roosters and toddlers (each has its challenges), and been together ‘through thick and thin’, as the saying goes.
I know that you’ll be my last moggy… we both love the birds around here too much and actually, I don’t think you’re replaceable. But for now, I like the way you curl up close to me each night, and talk to me with gruff miaows.
It was foggy when I awoke this morning, and a rather chilly 7 degrees Celsius.
The paddock next door glowed a mellow brown against the leaden sky. It had been freshly-plowed a couple of days ago and the rich earth bristling with broken maize stalks reminded me of a rough slice of dark rye bread.
I walked a circuit of the property several times (my usual practice). This combines exercise with the chance to see the myriad changes in the garden from the previous day.
What captured my attention today was the texture of the light through the mist and the way it picked out the delicacy of the tiny things it touched.
For example, I saw the work of countless orb-web spiders. Their intricate webs are strung from fence wires, dangling from branches and woven between the leaves of the harakeke and other native shrubs.
This morning, each web was heavily laden with tiny drops of water.
The Colours of a Misty Day
At first glance, the garden appeared to be clothed in muted greys and pastels.
Paradoxically, as I drew close to them, trees and shrubs seemed somehow fresher. They appeared to loom up out of the grey and stood out with greater clarity than I’d noticed on days where there is no mist.
All the while, the sun was trying to break through the moisture-laden air.
A tiny Tahou fed on small insects on the lichened branch of the old plum tree.
I was interested to read in Lynette Moon’s Know Your New Zealand Birds that this pretty little bird is protected.
Waxeyes are classified as native, which means they are either naturally found here, or self-introduced; large numbers migrated to New Zealand from Australia in the 1850s.
Who is the specimen here?
When I came back indoors, several of the hens were on the terrace, looking in at me through the living room window. Sometimes I have the distinct impression that I’m a specimen in a zoo.
Molly joined me. She looked at the hens, the hens looked back. Then they walked away. Slowly.
This always amuses me. Had she stared them down? What is the pecking order here?
On rainy days when the hens are sheltering near the window, Molly often looks out at them. Sometimes she goes right up to the window and just looks. I’d like to be able to read her mind.
Moon, Lynette (2006) Know Your New Zealand Birds New Holland Publishers (NZ) Limited, Auckland.
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 harvested most of our squash during the past week. It was a very good crop and I’m pleased with the varieties we chose to raise from seed this year.
Even though I’ve tended to grow the larger pumpkins in the past, the beauty of the smaller varieties is that you can cut into one and don’t end up with a huge vegetable to eat or process in a short amount of time.
The butternut and buttercup squashes are ideal for a family of two.
Keeping with the theme, I baked a pumpkin pie on Sunday, using some frozen mashed pumpkin from last year’s crop. This was from a Crown pumpkin – a large variety with smooth, pale grey skin and sweet orange flesh. Despite being frozen for all this time, the puree tasted very good.
The filling is comprised of pureed pumpkin, evaporated milk, eggs, ground ginger, ground allspice and caster sugar. The base is formed using sweet shortcrust pasty, which I baked blind before adding the filling. The pie is topped with freshly-grated nutmeg.
I’m interested in experimenting with tofu to see if I can make a vegan version.
You may recall that back at the beginning of January, I started a Rum Pot using strawberries, plums and some cape gooseberries. With the pears ripening and dropping each day, I decided to add some in.
The fruit that has been macerating in the rum and sugar for the past couple of months, smelt extremely enticing. I couldn’t resist tasting some of the liquor – it was very heady and almost spicy, reminding me of Christmas. So, now the rum pots have pieces of pear in them as well!
The next fruit to ripen should be our feijoa. I must admit that I’m not exactly sure how well the feijoa will enhance the mix, but we’ll see! As much as I love fresh feijoa, they do sometimes have something of a chalky texture.
On Wednesday (05 March) I sowed seeds of the following Brassica – Broccoli ‘Premium Green’, Cabbage ‘Scarlet O’Hara’ and Cauliflower ‘All the Year Round’. Brassica don’t seem to do so well in our hot, dry summers, but we have had good results during Winter and Spring.
I’m hoping that these will be ready to plant out in a month or so’s time. The broccoli and cauliflower have sprouted already (5 days).
The ‘swans’ on our swan plants (Asclepias physocarpa) are bursting with fluffy seeds. We appear have the full cycle happening at once – tiny caterpillars, fat caterpillars, cocoons, adult butterflies, mating butterflies, flowers and seed pods.
The grass in some areas of the garden is carpeted with the ‘down’ from the seeds. I suspect we may have something of a swan plant problem in 2014/2015. But at the moment I can’t see that we’d ever have too much of them. I love having the butterflies always present in the garden.
Swan Plant Beetle
When I was photographing the seed pods and their bursting seeds, I noticed a small insect inside. I have since identified this as Arocatus rusticus, a native of Australia that has become established in New Zealand.
Despite the foliage and sap of the swan plant being toxic to plant-eating creatures, it seems that Arocatus rusticus has evolved the ability to overcome the toxin and store it in its own body. You can’t really tell from my photo, but the insect is orange/red and brown in colour. This is to warn off predators as the toxins stored in its body has made it toxic, too.
Molly and the Hens
The four new Orpington hens have settled well alongside our three Red Shavers. Lottie is the boss of all seven, and every so often has to assert her dominance, usually by pushing in on a choice item of food, or by chasing one of the stragglers. They all choose to sleep in the same hen house nowadays, often trying to squeeze onto the same perch!
Francesca, Pearl, Fatima and Hannah (the four Orpingtons) mostly stick together and if Lottie isn’t around, Leila and Lulu will often be found nearby. Their favourite spot on these hot Autumn days is to sleep and dust bathe under the shade of the Feijoa trees.
When the Black Orpingtons were little, they looked so cute running around. From a distance they looked like they were wearing burqa – hence the name Fatima. We named the other Black Orpington, Hannah, to maintain balance.
The Red Shavers are very naughty. Lottie has taken to ‘disappearing’ in the mornings and not returning until sometime in the afternoon. One day I spotted her hurrying across the road and into the trees on the other side. We think that perhaps the house down the road may have something interesting to attract her – a rooster, maybe, but we’re not sure. I’ve taken to not letting the hens out until after 10.00 am or so, to be sure they have laid all their eggs before one of them heads off further afield.
Yesterday Leila caught a small field-mouse which must have strayed from the maize field. Poor wee thing – all three red hens set upon it – it didn’t have a chance.
Molly and the hens have developed a ‘kind’ of respect for each other. But to me it seems like the only advantage Molly has, is that she is allowed inside the house and the hens aren’t. Sometimes they look through the living room window at Molly, looking out.
I’ve seen them peck at her if she comes too close to them, but I’m sure she could defend herself if she had to. When I go into the hen’s enclosed area in the morning to collect their eggs, Molly always accompanies me. She has a good look around their area when they aren’t there. I find this amusing.