Tag Archives: thelma saunders

This and That

View to the north as the sun was setting last night.
View to the north as the sun was setting last night.

Pumpkins and Squash

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.

Squash 'Butternut Chieftain' and 'Burgess Buttercup'
Squash ‘Butternut Chieftain’ and ‘Burgess Buttercup’, with ‘Thelma Saunders Sweet Potato’ in the foreground.

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.

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin pie, straight from the oven.
Freshly-baked Pumpkin pie.

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.

A healthy serving of pumpkin pie.
A healthy serving of pumpkin pie.

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.

Rum Pot

Pears are falling daily from the old pear tree.
Pears are falling daily from the old pear tree.

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!

A view of the fruit macerating in the rum pot.
A view of the fruit macerating in the rum pots.

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).

Swan Plants

Swan plant seed head, and monarch butterfly on flowers
Swan plant seed head, and monarch butterfly on flowers

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

beetle in seed-head and bursting swan pod.
Close up of swan plant beetle, and view of bursting seed pod.

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

Lottie does like to boss the Orpingtons around, though.
Lottie does like to boss the Orpingtons around.

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.

Hannah and Fatima
Hannah and Fatima

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 often watches the hens from a secluded spot.
Molly often watches the hens from a secluded spot.

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.

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.