Tag Archives: vegetables

Too Many Grapes – Never Enough Tomatoes

Garden Gone Wild

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A very special rose. This gift from a friend holds the memory of someone taken much too soon.

Record rainfall followed by hot sun

After a late summer of seemingly endless blue skies, South Head received an unseasonal 124 mls of rain between 08 and 14 March. On the first soggy day we were grateful as the water tank was getting low, but by the end of the second day the novelty had worn off. The rain followed by sun has turned the vegetable garden into a jungle through which I can barely navigate.

A carpet of green

kumara
A tangle of kūmara, melon and squash.

In early November, we planted three rows of kūmara tupu. ‘Tupu’ are the rooted shoots that grow on a kūmara tuber. The vines are very vigorous  and are spreading all over the garden. I’m very excited about this. We’ve had mixed success with potatoes and I’d much prefer to grow kūmara if possible. We’ll have to wait until the leaves start to die down before seeing what’s hidden in the soil. This could be any time from the end of March onward and looking at our plants I suspect it’ll be more like April.

After harvest (assuming there is actually something growing underneath all those leaves) we’ll set the best aside to start a new crop next October.

veges 02
Left to right: Basil jostling with carrots; okra; rhubarb; kale and silver beet (chard, to those of you from the northern hemisphere).

Our one surviving rhubarb plant is gigantic. The stalks are fat and juicy and despite baking them into Rhubarb Tarte Tartin and adding them to cereals and desserts, many will go to waste. We also have more than we can eat of basil and silver beet, and I’m curious to see how the okra turns out. Growing okra is another ‘first’ for me, and in my ignorance, I allowed some pods to grow too long, so have cut them all off and am hoping that more will be produced before it gets cooler.

veges 03
Left to right: Limes; habanero peppers; ‘Big Chief Butternut’ squash; bell peppers.

Continuing with the green theme, it looks like we’ll beat our record for limes as both trees are very well-endowed this year and also have a decent crop of new flowers. My favourite chile pepper, Habanero, is looking very fine, with each of the plants laden with flowers and young fruit. I also sowed a handful of seeds for a different squash, ‘Big Chief Butternut’, which apparently grows to 2 – 3 kg. And it is HUGE. And the capsicum (bell pepper) plants have become so large that we’ve had to support them with sturdy wooden stakes.

Zucchinis and tomatoes

This summer we’ve had the heaviest crop of both zucchinis and tomatoes since living at South Head, with green beans, coming a close third.

cleome and worms
Left to right: Pretty Cleome spinosa (Spider flower); a tomato fruitworm tucking into a green tomato; the disturbing sight of a grub inside a tomato; same grub after removal.

Scattered around the vegetable garden are self-sown Cleome. I planted a half dozen a few years back to attract green vegetable bugs and the Tomato Fruitworm, Helicoverpa armigera ssp. conferta. The Cleome attract both insects really well, but there haven’t been so many green vegetable bugs this year, and I’ve been picking off the damaged tomatoes when I come across them. The hens like drawing the fat green caterpillars out. I must admit that when I overlook one, and the tomato goes rotten from the inside, I can’t bear to look at them, let alone touch them. All that ‘goopy’ decay turns my stomach.

I’ve been freezing tomatoes in 400 gram packs for use over winter; the neat thing about outside-grown tomatoes is that they are easy to peel, which saves time later. And I’ve also bottled a batch of tomato sauce. I’ve used the zucchini for pickles and we’re eating them every other day. My favourite recipe is to slice them thickly before sautéing them with mashed garlic in a little olive oil. At the last moment, to throw in a few sage leaves. Because the Costasta romanesco variety of zucchini isn’t at all watery, the sage leaves quickly go crispy and add a delicious flavour.

And still there’s more…

There are some vegetables I haven’t really bothered with… lettuces, for example. We rarely get around to eating them and while I do have a row growing and gradually aging right now, there are several earlier plants that I’ve let go to seed; the fuzzy down drifts around the garden with the slightest breeze. Lettuces are unlikely to become a problem if they sprout everywhere… I allowed a golden turnip plant to go to seed in Spring and we now have them growing in a couple of the pathways. There are only single rows of beetroot, carrots, parsnips, golden turnip and rocket – not that you’d ever need any more than one row of rocket!

veges 01
Left to right: Asparagus still sending up shoots; zucchini Costasta romanesco; parsley; bulb fennel.

Grapes and honey bees

grapes 01

Yet another amazingly productive crop we’ve had this season is grapes. The vine stretches along the sun-drenched,  north-facing wall of the barn and I’ve never seen as many. We can’t keep up with eating them, so they are all beginning to split and ferment on the vine.

bees
Honey bees (Apis mellifera) gorging on the over-ripe grapes

Grapes are particularly attractive to honey bees – more so in the morning, and in the evenings I’ve seen the German wasp, Vespula germanica hovering around, so I’m hoping to observe them at dusk at the end of one of the fine Autumn days we have ahead of us, to see if we can ascertain the location of their nest.

grapes 02
The picked grapes are sweet and juicy.

Northern Japan in springtime

In about a week’s time I’m heading to Asahikawa in the north of Hokkaido for about five weeks. The contrast in weather will be a shock, I’m sure – going from the mid 20s to low 30s Celsius to close to 0 degrees (at least, for the first week or so), but I’m very much looking forward to my very first visit to Japan and am planning on writing  about my impressions while I’m there. Because I won’t have the distraction of the garden, I should have much more time to write, which will be something I’m really looking forward to.

dahlia
DahliaCactus Colour Spectacle‘ growing against the old fence.

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. 🙂


 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 sautéing 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 kererū 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.

Windy!

The south-easterly is howling through the maize in the field adjacent to our land.
The south-easterly is howling through the maize in the field adjacent to our land.

South-Easterly

We were away from South Head from Saturday morning until Sunday early evening, and while we were gone, a very strong south-easterly wind developed.  The prevailing wind for our area is supposed to be a southerly, but in actual fact, a straight southerly doesn’t really  affect our property due to the fact that there is a convenient rise in the land that protects us.  We do sometimes get a nor-easterly.  While this is annoying, we’ve put things in place to protect our vulnerable plants – sturdy stakes and protective shelter material… that kind of thing.  But this south-easterly is coming in from an angle we haven’t experienced before.

The wind is doing its best to separate the washing from the line!
The wind is doing its best to separate the washing from the line!

When I hung out the washing earlier I had to use twice as many pegs per garment.  It reminded me of trying to wrestle with cloth nappies in Lyall Bay, Wellington, back in the 70s.

Plums

This doesn't really show the extent of the plum loss - they are spread over a wide area of ground
This doesn’t really show the extent of the plum loss – they are scattered over a wide area of ground

I was too exhausted last night to look at the garden, but the first intimation I had that all was not well was when Ben reported that nearly all the fruit had been blown off from my favourite plum tree.  This is the plum tree in what we now term our ‘native’ area – it’s an old tree that has less plums than the one growing closer to the vege garden.  But the plums are larger and have a deep red flesh.

I love them and have been looking forward to eating them.

Fallen plums
Fallen plums

When I went out earlier this morning to take stock, I felt like crying.

And I do still have a heavy heart, but I suppose there is no point in shedding tears over lost fruit.  At least we aren’t dependent on our fruit or our crops for our livelihood.

The second plum tree - mostly unaffected by the wind
The second plum tree – mostly unaffected by the wind

Fortunately, the other plum tree is situated out of the worst of the wind.  It’s still laden with fruit.

Local Birds

The wind has has had an impact on the birds that have chosen to make their homes here, as well.  I’m sure they were just as unprepared for the wind’s unusual direction.

We’ve found quite a few parts of nests on the ground, and the sparrows are busy with recycling; flying down to collect the broken nest parts from the ground and carrying them back up to their respective nesting sites.

A tiny nest lined with hair of some kind.
A tiny nest lined with hair of some kind.

Ben found the above nest below the macadamia tree, although it’s so light that it could have blown from anywhere.

It’s quite a bit smaller than any I’ve seen on the ground before.  The diameter of the inner bowl is approximately 4.5 to 5 cm and it’s lined with silvery grey hair of some kind.  I pulled a couple of strands out and it’s too coarse to be human or from a cat.  And I think too long to be from a dog… I’m wondering if it’s horse hair or something like that.  I really have no idea.

It’s a beautiful little nest, though, with moss and lichen woven in to the outside.

Possibly a blackbird's or a thrush's nest.
Possibly a blackbird’s or a thrush’s nest.

The above nest is much more loosely-woven than the smaller one.  It’s also quite a bit larger – around 9 to 10 cm across the bowl of the nest.  We’re pretty sure it belonged to either a blackbird or a song thrush.  We could only see the tail of the bird sticking up when it was sitting on, it as it was just out of eye sight.

The nest had been built in quite a small, spindly broad-leaf, and right from the start was partly tipping out, so it’s not surprising that it was dislodged by the wind.  This  nest is constructed almost entirely from grasses, with a tiny bit of lichen visible… and it seems to be lined with fine mud.

Three Blackbird eggs
Three Blackbird eggs

Our resident Blackbird couple are raising their third batch of eggs this season.  The female is currently sitting on three eggs – I had first observed her back on the nest on 09 December, which surprised me.  Raising young seemed to be a never-ending process for her and  I wasn’t sure if was because something had happened to her previous babies or whether she would keep on raising new broods if time allowed.

With her second batch I had noted the following: –

  • 19 November: 2 whole eggs, 2 hatched
  • 20 November: 4 hatched
  • 02 December: 4 chicks, well feathered and alert
  • 03 December: Nest empty

It seems amazing to me that it only took 13 days to go from hatching to flight.

I found an excellent page which provided me with the answers on the Tiritiri Matangi site.  It seems that Blackbirds do raise 2 – 3 broods per year, and that the chicks fledge at 13 – 15 days.  The other interesting fact I read is that a Blackbird’s possible lifespan is 15 years.

Garden Diary

It's going to be a bumper season for passionfruit.
It’s going to be a bumper season for passion fruit.

The garden has been flourishing, and as usual, I’ve been struggling to keep on top of things.  There has been more rain in November & December in comparison with the past couple of years, which is a good thing.  We’ve only had to water the vegetable garden once, and that very evening it rained, so …

The tomatoes are coming along nicely.
The tomatoes are coming along nicely.

We’re been well-served by our vegetables and have been eating asparagus, beetroot, silver beet, green beans, peas, lettuces, rocket, new potatoes and Florence fennel.  Probably some other things as well but it’s hard to keep up.

Sweet Peas

My favourite early Summer flower.
My favourite early Summer flower.

I can’t finish today’s entry without putting in a plug for Sweet Peas.  I was very disappointed with the strike rate for the seeds I sowed in winter.  I had used up a whole packet but only a handful of seeds germinated.

Well… the ones that did sprout, combined with a few self-sown plants, have provided a wonderful display once again.   I’m sure the extra rain has helped, too.

I love these flowers and every other day have picked enough to fill two vases.  Even as I sit here writing I can smell their sweet and spicy scent from across the room.

Sun, Wind and Rain

November is here!

Rain is being blown across the paddocks, watering the maize.
Rain is being blown across the paddocks, watering the maize.

It was incredibly windy on Tuesday, with strong gusts blowing in from the west all day.  It was also very sunny.

Today, the wind is still howling and it’s bringing torrents of rain every 30 minutes or so.  It’s noticeably cooler, too.

Vegetables

Yesterday was a great day for the garden, despite the wind.  I’d decided to dedicate a decent amount of time to tidying up and sowing some more seeds, so started around 9.30 am.

The first thing I had to do was re-tie the young tomato plants to their stakes.  They are hardening up nicely and the first two I planted out are flowering, but some of the spindlier ones were definitely being battered by the wind.

The latest cleared vegetable bed... between the betroot and carrots I sowed edamame and more carrots.
New seeds have gone in between the beetroot and the carrots & peas.

I then set to work tidying up a patch of the garden that had some bolting lettuces.  After pulling them out and sifting through the soil, I sowed a second row of Edamame and a row of the heirloom carrot, ‘Touchon‘.  I was reassured to see that despite the dryness of the surface, there’s still evidence of moist soil about a trowel’s depth in.

On Sunday I had already sowed rows of organic Basil ‘Sweet Genovese’, Turnip ‘Golden Ball’ and Beetroot ‘Crosby’s Egyptian Flat’, so I’m feeling much better about the state of the vegetable garden.  I don’t think I’ll ever get on top of the required tasks, though.

The wonderful South Head growing conditions that produce so many vegetables, also produce weeds that grow with alarming vigour and scatter their seeds all year round.  And there is never a frost to kill anything off.

Spring Greens

Beetroot (foreground), kale and broad beans.
Beetroot (foreground), kale and broad beans.

The vegetables are providing us with choices each day – it’s a matter of juggling between them all and trying to work out what we particularly feel like eating for any given meal.

In the past week we’ve enjoyed Silverbeet, Asparagus, Kale, Lettuce (not just the green variety), Rocket, Broad Beans, Red Cabbage and Peas.

Asparagus
Asparagus

I couldn’t say which is my favourite, though I do love to have asparagus spikes every other day of the week at this time of year.

Fresh garden peas.
Fresh garden peas.

Close behind would be fresh peas, and tender young broad beans are wonderful, mashed up with butter and a little garlic.

And I found a really easy (and yummy) recipe for Red Cabbage – so we’ve cooked this up a couple of times.  I think this is on the menu for tonight, actually.   Sautéed Red Cabbage.

Other Vegetables

Florence Fennel

Florence Fennel (foreground) and Peas.
Florence Fennel (foreground) and Peas.

The Florence Fennel has been putting on a good deal of growth.  Fingers crossed they won’t bolt before forming their bulbs.  We’ve had good crops for several years now, and one that went straight to seed.

You can see dried Lilly Pilly leaves in all my photos.  They seem to fall at all times of the year and I’m always scraping them out of the garden in an attempt to keep it looking tidy.  But I guess I’ll never have a tidy garden as the slightest breeze sends them showering back down.

Runner Beans and Lettuces

Lettuces and Runner Beans.
Lettuces and Runner Beans.

The runner beans seem a bit slow.  Ben put in some ‘King of the Blues Runner’ in between the Scarlet Runners from last year.  Scarlet Runners are perennial, although most people tend to pull them out at the end of the season and put in new seeds the following year.

Growing in front of them are a few lettuces and some self-sown Viola Tricolor (Heart’s Ease).

Potatoes and Sweet Corn

I poked around beneath the soil by one of the early potatoes and was pleased to see at least one beautiful new potato.  It was quite a good size for an ‘early’ so I’m hopeful that we may have better luck this year with growing spuds.

Ben hasn’t been so lucky with his sweet corn, though.  He sowed a whole packet and only two sprouted.  It’s hard to know if it’s something in the soil, or our friendly blackbirds have been in and dug them out.  It’s disappointing and exasperating, but given that our back paddock has been sowed in a commercial crop of sweet corn and that we always get to help ourselves after the first picking, I’m philosophical about it.

I don’t think we’ll bother to try to grow sweet corn again.  (We did have a really good crop the first year we were here.)

Onions

Egyptian Walking Onions
Egyptian Walking Onions

The Egyptian Walking Onions (also known as Tree Onions) are coming along well, forming the first little topsets at the end of their leaves.

I’ll be glad to have these as I’ve had bad luck with trying to grow regular onions.  The seeds have struck well enough, but have been dug up by birds before becoming properly established.

Silver Beet

This Silverbeet never stops growing.
This Silverbeet never stops growing.

Our Silverbeet is amazing.  These plants are a couple of years old, but don’t seem to want to go to seed.  They have actual trunks now – somewhat like pyramids, with the leaves forming in a circle around the upper edges.

A week or so ago I pulled off all the ratty leaves, thinking that we’d be pulling the plants out soon.  They responded by sending out new glossy leaves, immaculate.  We had to cook some up last night just to work our way through them.  The ribs are so wide and the leaves so large that we can’t eat both.

Strawberries and Bananas

The strawberries are safe from the blackbirds, now.
The strawberries, protected from the blackbirds.

The strawberries have been coming along well.  The problem with them (is there a common theme, here?) has been the blackbird hen.   And probably a few other birds as well.

Each morning I’d go down to the garden only to find sharp pecks in the strawberries – even before they’d ripened properly.  I’m sure the hens were happy, though, as I’d throw them all the half-pecked fruit which they’d eat avidly.

Ben’s built a clever frame with netting to keep the birds off, so the berries are having a chance to ripen and be eaten by humans, rather than birds.  We’ve probably picked around a kilogram so far.

Banana 'Mons Mari'.
Banana ‘Mons Mari’.

The bananas are also looking good.  They seem to be forming better than the ones from earlier in the year – perhaps due to the improved growing conditions.  It’s warm, and we’ve had a good deal of rain compared to a year ago.

Blackbirds and Feijoa Flowers

Blackbird hen, back on the nest.
Blackbird hen, back on the nest.

Speaking of the blackbird hen, she’s back on the nest again! This is the same nest she used to raise her last batch – built inside a small Sweet Bay tree situated within our fenced-off vegetable garden area.

I took the above photo yesterday and had to poke the camera in quite far as it was so windy that the branches were being rocked and shaken.

As you can see, she stares steadily out at you, but doesn’t budge.  Not that I’d want her to – and I tried to be as quick as I could as I’d hate to put her off her task.

Despite the damage the birds do to our garden we do love having them here.  They are so tame and so pretty.

We regularly see two or three young birds from her first brood.  They have grown from chubby little birds with short tail feathers and speckled breasts, to much sleeker specimens.  And where originally they weren’t very skilled at flying, they are now adept.

Feijoa flowers are irresistible to birds.
Feijoa flowers are irresistible to birds.

We don’t see the male (father) blackbird very often, but the hen and young ones are often in the Feijoa, eating the crimson flowers.  I was worried about this until I read that birds eating the petals help pollinate the flowers.  However, it seems to me that the birds not only eat the petals but destroy the whole flower.  Often the complete flower drops to the ground and the bird will fly down and finish it off there.  I guess time will tell.

Freshly-plucked Feijoa flower.
Freshly-plucked Feijoa flower.

The other thing I read with interest is that the fleshy petals of the Feijoa flower are edible and can be sprinkled in salads, etc.  I decided to check this out this morning (even though I didn’t want to remove a potential Feijoa) and can confirm that they have a pleasant taste.  They are more fleshy than they look, so have a bit of texture to them, and have a delicate sweet and spicy flavour.  No wonder the birds like them!

Neoregelia

Neoregelia
Neoregelia

Here’s another member of the Bromeliad family that is currently looking good in the garden.  I love the way water collects in the centre of the leaves.

Neoregelia are native to the South American rain forests.  I’m pretty sure that this particular specimen is Neoregelia ‘Everlasting’.

September at South Head

Spring

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.

The new garden gate.
The new garden gate.

Garden Gate

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

seedlings_2

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.

Fruit Trees

Blossom on the plum tree.
Blossom on the plum tree.

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 Macadamias are covered in buds.
The Macadamias are covered in buds.

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.

olive

And finally, it looks like we may get our first olives this year, as there are tiny buds appearing for the first time.

Vegetable Garden

A selection of the lettuces we have at the moment.
A selection of the lettuces we have at the moment.

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.

Rocket (Erica Sativa) in flower.
Rocket (Erica Sativa) in flower.

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.

A row of green peas.  (The messy leaves are from the Lilly Pillies - they are all through the garden).
A row of green peas. (The messy leaves are from the Lilly Pillies – they are all through the 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.

Russian Kale in the foreground, with self-sown Dill to the left and Broad Beans behind.
Russian Kale in the foreground, with self-sown Dill to the left and Broad Beans behind.

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!!

Early potatoes popping up through the soil.
Early potatoes popping up through the soil.

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.

Hens

The hens are still going well.  All seven of them.  (The three Red Shavers and four Orpingtons.)

We'd toyed with attaching a mobile phone to Lottie's back in order to track her using a phone app.
We’d toyed with attaching a mobile phone to Lottie’s back in order to track her using a phone app.

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.

Winter!

Nuts in June

The nuts are starting to drop from our macadamia trees.  I’ve collected over 100 in the past week, with more falling when it’s been breezy overnight.  Even our smallest tree is producing a few this year.  We still have a decent amount of nuts from 2012, which we’ll have to get through.  It just takes time to crack them but it’s something that can be done in the evening while watching TV.  Once they are shelled, I’ll be toasting them and then grinding them; mixed with a little sugar and coconut oil, they make a really yummy gluten-free, vegan crust for a dessert pie.

Bristly Ox-Tongue

I’ve finally managed to identify a weed we have on our property.  Helminthotheca ecioides, or Bristly Ox-tongue.  It was apparently naturalised in NZ in 1869.  It’s a horrible weed as it grows up with nasty hairy spikes on its stalk and leaves, and these can really hurt if you try to pull one out with bare hands.  We’ve mostly eradicated these from our property, but they still come up here and there.  This is one ugly weed.

The Prodigal Hen

Strangely, Lottie came back last Friday.  It was a rainy, squally day and I hadn’t been outside much, but when we checked the hen house after dark before closing the gate of their enclosure for the night, Lottie was sitting on the very top perch (having evicted Lulu and Leila) as if she had never been away. The poor Orpingtons had had to vacate the bottom perch and were sleeping together on the floor.  We were away overnight Saturday / Sunday and weren’t sure what we’d find when we came back on Sunday afternoon – I was very curious to see if Lottie was still at home, and if she was, what shape she was in.

When we arrived, Lottie, the two White Orpingtons (Francesca and Pearl), and one of the Black Orpingtons (Fatima) were nowhere to be seen.  Lulu, Leila and Hannah (the youngest Black Orpington) were pecking around the property in their usual fashion.  We called and called, at first to no avail.  Then the four wanderers appeared, casually walking back from across the road.  My heart sank at the thought that Lottie might start luring the other hens away during the day.  That night when we shut them into their enclosure, we wondered what would happen the following day.

As it turned out, as soon as I let them out on the Monday morning, Lottie strutted off at great speed, across the grass, past the garage, down the driveway and across the road.  She hadn’t even had the decency to lay an egg before leaving!  Fortunately the other hens didn’t notice her departure, so not one followed her.  She didn’t return on Monday evening, but to be honest, I wasn’t worried as my thoughts were that she was likely to cause more problems if she did come back permanently.

Then surprisingly, later on this afternoon, who should we see but Lottie making her way back home across the road.  Tonight she has been shut in a separate area of our enclosure, and I won’t be letting her out tomorrow.  We’re going to see if she copes with being kept shut in for a few days… it will be interesting to see if she lays an egg while she’s here.  When we checked her tonight, she was sleeping on the top perch of her house – all alone (of course).  At least she won’t be pecking and bossing the other hens around, and nor will she be leading them astray (tomorrow, at least).

Seasonal Fruit

We are still eating feijoas (although surely they will have all finished ripening, soon) and are starting on tamarillos.  There is a farm up the road that sells bags of the latter for $2.  These are so much nicer than any I have ever purchased from a store, and our own orange variety, ‘Tamarillo Bold Gold’ is also producing fruit for the first time.   The fruit is smaller than the reds, but very juicy and sweet.

The bananas look like they are starting to ripen.  They are certainly getting fatter and the top rows are definitely turning a lighter colour.  As these are the first bananas I’ve ever grown, I have no idea what to expect as far as time to maturity is concerned.

Our two young lime trees are a mass of flowers and small fruit.  Typically, a strong wind started blowing in today from the North West.  I’m hoping that it doesn’t inflict too much damage on the new growth.  The lemon trees also look to be producing buds, but not as energetically as the limes.

Garden Diary

It’s been wet off and on for over a week now.  We do get a degree of sunshine during most days, but then the clouds build up and it’s gloomy again.  I think this June our solar generation will be the lowest ever.  Thank goodness it’s not long until the shortest day.

In the vegetable garden, broad beans have come up, as has curly kale.  The Egyptian Walking Onions are looking good, as are our mixed lettuces, beetroot, rocket and radishes.

I don’t know why I grow radishes – probably because the variety I have sown, ‘Easter Egg’, is so pretty when they are small – white, pink, purple and red – but I tend not to eat them myself as they are too peppery for me.  And this from someone whose favourite chili is the Habanero. 🙂

Speaking of which, I am still picking habaneros, and our basil still hasn’t died off, although it’s getting a little straggly as I have omitted to keep up with removing the flower spikes.  I have had absolutely no luck with parsnip seeds this season – nor with leeks.  I’ve sown a couple of rows of each of these, but none have germinated.  Very annoying.