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Rum, plums, corn and squash

ImageRum Pots and Cherries

What a hot day it’s been!  One of my plans for today was to find a use for the remaining plums along with some of the strawberries, now that latter are ripening up nicely.

I had been reading about rum pots, also known as rumtopf and romkrukke.  This seemed like a really cool way to preserve some of our fruits as they come to fruition on our trees.  I’ve mostly missed the boat re the plums, but starting now, I should be able to use our strawberries, pears, tamarillo and feijoa.  I also collected a few Cape gooseberries, as these grow like weeds around our property.

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The ideal container for a rum pot is a ceramic container or a dark jar, as the fruit should be protected from bright light.  I was also looking for something that would hold a decent amount of fruit.  In the end, the best containers I could find were some tall, glass spaghetti jars, enclosed in a metal sleeve, with a wee window on one side.  Into these I layered the fruit with 1/2 their weight in white sugar, then topped them up with dark rum until the fruit was just covered.

Sad Cherry Tale

Some years ago, my daughter Amiria had brought me back a small bucket of export quality lapin cherries from Summerfruit Orchards in Central Otago, where she had been employed fruit-picking.  I saved a few of the finest specimens, added them to a sturdy glass jar and covered them with brandy.  I kept this jar of cherries for 3 to 4 months, having placed it in a shady place at the corner of my kitchen bench – I’d rotate the jar regularly to keep the alcohol circulated through the fruit.

Ben was washing dishes one day and thought the jar of cherries something old to be discarded, so he tipped them into my compost bucket.  I didn’t notice that they were missing until it was too late.  I’m sure I’d have scooped them out of the compost bucket if I’d known straight away!

I still wonder about those cherries – what they would have tasted like…  But it’s a lesson on letting people know about the strange concoctions we have in our kitchens.

Asparagus

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It’s time to allow our asparagus plants to produce their ferny foliage so that they can grow strong and healthy for our Spring 2014 crop.  These plants have been in place for 4 years now, and this year we were eating spears continually from the end of September through to the end of December.  We had put in some plants of the regular green variety as well as having sown seeds of the purple, Asparagus Sweet Purple.

Freshly-picked asparagus, lightly steamed and served with melted butter is one of the special flavours of a spring garden.

Sweet Corn

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It’s been a busy time for Ben, collecting as much sweet corn as he can, before he runs out of energy.  Over the past 2 days, he’s harvested around 150 ears and has spent a good proportion of the day scraping off the kernels and freezing them free-flow for winter use.  It’s a time-consuming task and not much fun when it’s so hot outside, but well worth it.  He’s also frozen some of our runner beans.

I mixed up a batch of corn fritters for lunch – couldn’t resist it!  They were yummy!

Other Garden Tasks

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Other garden tasks undertaken today included cutting back the spent sweet peas from the back fence of our main vegetable garden.

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Around February last year I collected seeds from a patch of sweet peas I had sown the previous Winter.   We sowed these this year to see how they would turn out.  The blooms haven’t been as strong, nor as fragrant, and are in a very narrow range of colours: scarlet, vermillion and shades of pink, none of them particularly vivid.

This was disappointing on a couple of levels as (1) I’m not a pink or a red kind of a girl, and (2) I prefer my flowers to have a fragrance.

gardenia

The same can’t be said for our gardenia which has been flowering very well this year compared with last year.  We saved this shrub from our previous property in Titirangi, where it struggled with the paucity of sunlight.  I do love the beautiful waxy flowers with their creamy, honeysuckle fragrance.

bougainvillea

Another plant currently providing brilliant colour to the garden is the bougainvillea, Scarlet O’Hara.  This is another plant we saved from Titirangi.  There, it barely produced a single new shoot, and failed utterly to produce the beautiful crimson bracts.

Hibiscus Golden Oriel
Hibiscus Golden Oriel

We also recently planted a very garish looking hibiscus, Hibiscus Golden Oriel, a Hawaiian hybrid.  I couldn’t resist it, but usually don’t like flowers that combine the colour yellow with red!

Other tasks for today have involved checking on how the vegetables are progressing.  I have a habit of walking around my garden at least once a day, but often go back again in the late afternoon, mainly to check on what needs pruning or cutting back, or which vegetables are ready for harvest, which need to be pulled out, etc.  To be honest, there is not enough hours in the day, so I tend to just do the things that interest me at the time.

Buttercup & Butternut Squash
Buttercup & Butternut Squash

Today I was especially pleased with the progress of my squashes, Burgess Buttercup and Butternut Chieftain.  I’ve grown these two as I particularly like the taste of their flesh.  Also,  they are extremely prolific, which means we’ll be provided with many individual squashes of a perfect size for two people.

Thelma Saunders Sweet Potato
Thelma Saunders Sweet Potato

I’ve also grown a new pumpkin this year, Thelma Saunders Sweet Potato.  According to information I have read, this is the sweetest of the heirloom acorn squashes and is named after Thelma Sanders of Adair County, Missouri.  It is renowned for its cooking qualities and has won many a harvest bake-off competition in the USA.

It doesn’t seem to be producing as many pumpkins as I’d hoped, but there is still plenty of time until the end of the season.

I obtained seed for both the pumpkin and the squashes from Kings Seeds.

fruits

The passion fruit, macadamia nuts and pears are developing as expected.   I really need to somehow get to the top of the pear tree to thin the pears… ideally there should only be 2 – 3 fruit per bunch to allow them to grow properly.

The passion fruit are very fat and healthy looking, and the macadamia nuts look to be producing a good crop this year.

let_tom

The tomatoes are fine, although they seem to be a bit slower to ripen than at the same time  last year.  I have grown several varieties from seed: Mortgage Lifter, Cherokee Purple, Bloody Butcher, Black from Tula, Black Krim and Sun Cherry.  I especially like the ‘black’ tomatoes, but am always interested in trying new varieties.

The lettuces are bolting and I’ll have to compost them soon.  The basil is slow to grow, too.  I’m thinking this is to do with the lack of rain prior to Christmas, but they should put on good growth now that the weather has settled.

sunset

When the sun set today, we had generated a very respectable 14.59 KWh.  Not bad for our 11 panel / 2 KW system.  There is something so very satisfying about generating our own power from the sun.  I’ll never take this for granted!

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.