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.
Snow fades to reveal
shadow tree in bright water.
It’s been a long winter for the people of Asahikawa, reaching back to the first snowfalls in October. And it certainly seemed chilly to me when I arrived, coming from the humid heat of a South Head autumn. But since then, the lowest temperature I’ve experienced has been around -5 C, and today it had reached 17 C by about 5 pm. (It’s not so long ago that it was regularly -15 C). The gratifying thing I’ve observed, however, is that as soon as the snow starts to melt and the bare earth is exposed, new growth begins.
It’s already more than a week into Cherry Blossom Festival down south in Tokyo, but this far north most of the trees are barely in bud; you can in a certain light, however, discern a golden-green tinge along the branches of some. The Pussy Willows are in flower already. The sight of their fuzzy protuberances reminds me of spring in Dunedin, and more specifically, of my much-loved garden at St Leonards, where the fattening buds were also one of the first signs that winter was finally over.
Along the walkways in Tokiwa Koen, the edges of stone walls are emerging from beneath the snow, and I was surprised see Moss Phlox growing there, as green as if it hadn’t been entombed for months. It’s the very phlox I rely on at home to brighten up the edges of my front borders… how versatile it is (!) and I wonder if it’ll flower before I head back to New Zealand.
I glimpsed some crocuses pushing up through a patch of dead grass in an otherwise barren strip of dirt at the base of a city apartment building. The familiarity of both this cheerful flower and the phlox help me feel ‘at home’ in this otherwise different environment. I’m discovering unfamiliar plants too, such as the golden, yellow flower Adonis amurensis (a member of the buttercup family) and the chartreuse new shoots of Petasites japonicus.
Behind the phlox-frilled edges of the gardens in Tokiwa Park, rows and rows of bulbs are sending up their first green or ruddy shoots… I wasn’t sure what these could be when they first appeared, but with a few day’s growth under their belts, I suspect they may be tulips.
One of the odd things about the snow melting, is that it exposes great drifts of dried leaves, most of which have no doubt been buried since October or November. It is an incongruous sight… you could almost think you were looking at a scene from autumn, rather than from spring, what with the bare branches on the trees, the patches of snow and the masses of leaves .
The Places You Sit
Toilets in Japan deserve a special mention. The first surprise was that most of the toilets in public places, i.e., stores, cafes, railway stations and airports, have heated seats. The first time I experienced this I was perplexed as I was certain that the cubicle had been unoccupied prior to my arrival. As well as the cosy seats, toilets have a mind-dazzling array of ‘personal’ options. You can wash and dry your nether regions, or you can play ‘privacy’ sounds (music or the sound of running water) to disguise any accidental or unseemly noises.
Each time I’ve visited one of these small rooms, I’ve been so tangled up in layers of winter clothing that I haven’t had the inclination to ‘relax’ into the experience, but who knows, as the days grow warmer, and I’m wearing less clothing…
For the first time in several weeks, there is no wind. (Hooray!!!) It’s a beautiful, partly overcast day with a very light breeze. Every time the sun comes out from behind a cloud I’m reminded of how hot it will soon become – it’s currently sitting at about 21C in the shade.
I was in the vege garden on Friday when quite by accident I came across something especially evocative of Spring.
We have a small (but very bushy) Bay tree situated within the fenced off (that is, hen-free) section of our garden. I had gone there to collect a few good-sized bay leaves for a batch of fagioli I was preparing.
I parted the top leaves looking for some decent leaves and was surprised to discover a nest complete with four tiny chicks.
We’ve been watching the black bird pair all year. We think they are most likely the same two that built a nest in the right-hand section of the barn last spring. The hen, in particular, is very plucky and will fly down beside me when I’m weeding in the vegetable garden – usually to pull out worms or scratch around where I’ve been weeding. For some time we’ve been wondering where their nest might be. It seems so obvious now!
The parents don’t seem to mind us peering in – earlier today when I checked to see if the babies were okay, I saw four bright-eyed little faces peering back at me. Mum and Dad were watching from the branches of the plum tree, above. The chicks are very quiet, which is just as well, as our cat Molly could easily knock the nest out of the tree. I’m sure she’d love to munch on some tender young chicks!
On Saturday, Ben found another nest on a shelf in the ‘man cave’ section of the barn; but all that was inside were broken blue pieces of shell. It’s hard to know if any chicks ever hatched, or (and this seems more likely) a rat got them. The amusing thing about the second nest is that the parents had woven some red and black plastic-coated leads (still attached to a small battery charger) into the base. It was very well-constructed – they’d put down a base of mud, then built up the sides with twigs and stalks. The inside was a perfectly formed circle, made with delicate pieces of dried grass. I’m always impressed at how beautifully these nest are made.
The new flower spike on our Banana (Banana Mons Mari) is already developing fruit. Earlier today, I spent twenty minutes or so cutting away some of the old and battered growth from the plant. The howling winds I’ve been complaining about really wreak damage on the leaves, but the plant itself is surprisingly resilient.
The vege garden is coming along nicely. The broad beans survived the wind – thanks to some stakes and string.
The peas are forming pods.
And I’ve had a good strike rate with the edamame, rocket and lettuce I sowed a couple of weeks ago. Thank goodness!!
The early potatoes (Cliff’s Kidney) have needed earthing up a couple of times and are looking very vigorous. The asparagus patch is producing fat shoots each day, so we are eating them as they appear.
The passion fruit is in good shape after my fairly brutal pruning. It’s started to flower and their are many, many unopened buds on the vines.
To finish, I just had to include a photo of this spectacular bromeliad, Vriesea hieroglyphica, as it’s flourishing at the moment. It’s growing in the sunnier of the two gardens we have devoted to plants from the family Bromeliaceae.
This time of the year all our bromeliads are putting on new growth and developing ‘pups’. We’re hoping to establish some of the varieties more suited to the purpose, in some of our larger trees – many grow as epiphytes in their natural environment.
Spring is finally here. I can tell by the unsettled nature of the days. One minute sunny, the next rainy, interspersed with strong winds from both the south and the north. Today there is only a light breeze, however.
Yesterday, Ben installed a wooden gate in the back fence, which means we can now easily walk through to the ‘wild’ area under the Lilly Pillies. There is a pile of prunings over there that we can put through the shredder for mulch, and also cut up for kindling. With the change in weather, more warmth in the sun, etc., I am keen to get out there and knock the garden into shape after the winter months.
Growing from Seed
I’ve been sowing seeds for my more tender crops indoors to get them started and have had a really good strike rate with tomatoes, especially. But also with zucchini and buttercup squash. I’ve transferred these wee babies to the barn to harden up a bit before planting out.
The first plum tree (the one with the dark red flesh) is a mass of white blossom, and I was pleased to note this morning that it’s being frequented by many bumble and honey bees.
The bumble bees are such great little insects for pollinating the fruit trees. Season after season they are always there. Sadly, honey bees are less common these days – I think this is a feature for many parts of the country, not to mention the more populated areas of our planet. But seeing so many honey bees this early on in the season has made me optimistic for the rest of Spring and Summer.
The last few nuts are still dropping off our macadamia trees, but they are covered in blossom, too. Again, they are buzzing with the busy little bee bodies.
And finally, it looks like we may get our first olives this year, as there are tiny buds appearing for the first time.
In the vegetable garden we are eating our first asparagus, and are still inundated with lettuces. The latter grow all year round and we never seem to keep up with eating them all.
We are getting to the end of our broccoli and cauliflowers – it will soon be too hot here for Brassica, anyway.
I’m allowing a couple of Rocket(Eruca Sativa) plants go to seed, the plan being to collect our own seed and use this for successive crops. We’ll see, I may get fed up with them sprawling there amongst the ‘soon to be tidy’ (do you believe that?) garden.
I’ve also sown two rows of green peas and these are looking great, as is the garlic I put in on the shortest day. The strawberries are in flower and desperately need to be weeded. Sadly, a row of Edamame beans I sowed a fortnight ago, have been chewed up by (most likely) slugs. I had to put some bait out earlier – but I really do hate putting slug bait down in our garden.
The other plant successes in the vegetable garden are the Russian Kale (this, thanks to my friend Maureen who provided me with seeds from her own garden) and the always reliable Broad Beans. The latter are simply covered with their pretty white & black flowers at the moment. I can’t wait until we can eat them!!
The early potatoes are up and will hopefully ready for Christmas. 2014 was such a bad season for potatoes… fingers crossed we’ll have more success this year.
The hens are still going well. All seven of them. (The three Red Shavers and four Orpingtons.)
Lottie is still wandering, but now comes back, which is very odd. We even installed a low fence along the front and edge of our property – these are the two places the hens can wander out – but Lottie just climbs over it. She trots off along the newly-ploughed field adjacent to ours, following the fence-line next to the road, until she disappears out of sight. Later in the day she is back – I never actually see her return, she’s just there. I’d love to know where she goes and why. She was missing for two or three months, before one day just turning up again. Ben and I spend a good deal of time musing on this.