Tag Archives: Welcome Swallow

Spring – Kooanga – Haru

Spring is in the air and bursting up through the soil

A kotare sits on the washing line (Sacred Kingfisher, Todiramphus sanctus)

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.

Garden Musings

Tomato and flower seedlings, raised indoors.
This spring I’ve repeated my experiment from last year. To give my vegetables and flowers a head start, I’ve sown the seeds in trays indoors (to be specific, on a table in our living room) using seed-raising mix.
One of the zucchini plants about a week ago, and yesterday’s small harvest

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.

In the left photo, the lettuces have run amok. In the right, garlic in the foreground and Egyptian Walking Onions in close pursuit.

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.

Sweet Onions

The patch of Sweet Spanish Onion seedlings. On the left, most are still struggling amongst the weeds, badly in need of thinning.

And on the topic of onions, when I was in Asahikawa earlier this year, I was fortunate to be invited to a couple of Japanese-style barbecues. One of the vegetables I especially enjoyed was the sweet white onion, sliced thickly and cooked over charcoal. I’d never tried a sweet onion before – I have no idea why, as they are delicious! I was glad to discover that Kings Seeds have two varieties, so I raised a few seeds inside to get them started early, and then sowed seeds outside as well. Many more germinated than I expected, and I’m sure it’s long past the time when I should have separated them all, but it’s a slow task and I’ve only moved a few. I’m hoping for a day next week that’s fine but not too sunny, and I’ll try to get the rest of them sorted out.

In the foreground, the lush, netted row of Spinach ‘Winter Giant’. Behind, is a densely-sprouted row of Beetroot ‘Detroit Dark Red’.

The heirloom Spinach ‘Winter Giant‘ seedlings I raised from seed indoors have literally ‘taken off’. Last year I tried out this amazing variety for the first time and was incredibly impressed. Each plant produced a huge head of strong leaves, and yet it was so green, so tender, when steamed. This year we’ve had to protect the plants with netting as the blackbirds also think they’re pretty yummy. We’ve been eating thinnings from our row of Beetroot ‘Detroit Dark Red‘ in our salads, and hidden between the rows of beetroot and spinach is an equally-dense row of the carrot ‘Kuroda Improved‘.


Tomatoes ‘Black Krim’ are growing well. The first photo was taken on the 15th, and the second on the 29th October. Excellent growth in two weeks.

I’ve raised so many tomato seedlings this year. Most of them the heirloom tomato, ‘Black Krim’, which I have to admit is my favourite tomato. This year I’ve also raised the cherry tomato, Tomato ‘Sugar Plum’, as I wasn’t happy with the variety I grew last year. After battling huge unruly tomato plants over many seasons, we’ve decided that Waratah standard fence posts are the best garden stakes. They are easy to drive into the ground, they never move, they never break and are so strong. Black Krim tomato plants can grow really huge, with many heavy fruit dragging down their stalks. You need something sturdy to avoid catastrophes.

Root Ginger

Left: Ginger roots; Centre: Prepared ginger prior to simmering in sugar syrup; Right: Cooked ginger being coated with sugar.
I finally got around to using the ginger roots I’d dug up a few months ago. I’d been storing them in the fridge until now, and they’d kept well. I chose three roots to plant back into the garden and cleaned up the others. It’s a pretty straight-forward task to crystallise ginger. You clean it up, slice it, boil it for about 30 minutes in a little water and a pinch of salt, then drain and simmer it again with sugar and some of the original water. After this you let it dry off for a couple of hours, then toss it in sugar as a coating.

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

A fine looking Kotare sunning itself on the washing line. On the right, our attempts to deter the birds from perching there. I hasn’t worked!

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 cleverly constructed nest, squeezed into a gap in the timber.

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.

Checking the hives for AFB. On the right, our lovely Carniolan queen is circled.

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.

Flower Garden

A view of the fence surrounding our vegetable garden.

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.

The exquisite Amaryllis, ‘Apple Blossom’.

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.

Happy Gardening!

“In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.” (Mark Twain)

Spring is Sprung

Macadamia trees in flower.
Macadamia trees in flower.

Nuts and Fruit

2014 crop of Macadamia nuts.
2014 crop of Macadamia nuts.

Now that the Macadamias are fully in flower, the nuts have all fallen from the trees.  We’ve had a good crop this year.  We have about 11 kilos of the nuts with shell – a decent-sized carton full, although still not as many as we harvested in 2012.

After being away for a week, I can really notice the changes in the garden.  The mass of white flowers that adorned our most prolific plum tree is now mostly replaced with the bright green of new leaves.  We are still eating the plums we froze from this tree last November and I’m reminded of the fact that everything is just an ongoing cycle.  This is one of the things I really take pleasure in with having a garden.


Avocado 'Fuerte' in flower.
Avocado ‘Fuerte’ in flower.

Both of our small avocado trees are flowering prolifically.  We’ve had terrible trouble with these – right from when we first planted them they were afflicted with Root Rot (Phytophthora cinnamomi).  We probably should have destroyed the trees then and there, but we’ve been spraying them until they grow big enough for us to inject the cure directly into their trunks in the hope that they will overcome this scourge.

I’ve also been reading about some alternative remedies involving compost – obviously I’d much prefer not to spray but for now we are just trying to prevent the trees from becoming more badly afflicted.

We have a both a Fuerte and a Hass variety and also a small tree that Ben grew from a stone.  The latter has grown quite tall now, although isn’t yet old enough to flower.  It seems not to be afflicted with the same problem as the other two.  Avocados do well in this area, so we are hopeful.

Eggs and More Eggs

The unexpected 'egg' discovery.
The unexpected ‘egg’ discovery – the white egg is a plastic one.

For some time we’ve not had a full quota of eggs each day.  Always 5 or 6 but never 7.  We’d put this down to the fact that every hen doesn’t necessarily lay an egg every day of the week.  However, when Ben went into the barn yesterday morning he found 10 eggs in one of the old nesting boxes that we thought the hens didn’t use.  This was unexpected.

I checked them all by placing them in a deep pan of water, and they are all good – they all lie flat on the bottom of the pan. (See ‘Kitchen Tips – checking eggs for freshness.)

I suppose this means that one or more of the hens started laying there while we were away in Finland.  This would make sense as we do tend to look at that nesting box from time to time, ‘just in case’, and up until we left, we certainly hadn’t seen any eggs there.  But it was quite a surprise as neither Ben nor I have seen a hen go into that part of the barn, and we frequently observe them as they go about their daily tasks.

Passion Fruit

Passion Fruit showing signs of xxx
Passion Fruit showing signs of Brown Spot (Alternaria passiflorae)

Our Passion Fruit vine is afflicted with Brown Spot.  Yesterday I made a priority of cutting off all the diseased leaves.  We’ll burn these later on today.

The Passion Fruit vine, after hard pruning.
The Passion Fruit vine, after hard pruning.

There is a great deal of new growth and a good many flower buds, so I’m optimistic for a good crop this year.  If I cut off and destroy all infected parts early on in the season, and we then apply a copper spray to the vine, we seem to be able to control this disease sufficiently.

Early Birds

I heard my first ‘definite’ Pīpīwharauroa call for this Spring, yesterday.  I’d heard what I thought could be them last week, but only the first part of their notes, without the final downward sound, so wasn’t sure.

The Long-tailed Cuckoo and the Shining Cuckoo are New Zealand’s only forest birds that migrate out of the country. They both breed in New Zealand, parasitising endemic species, using them to raise their offspring for them

I posted yesterday’s ‘sighting’ on the Birds of New Zealand Cuckoo Study page.  If you hear the call of either the Shining Cuckoo or the Long-tailed cuckoo, you can submit this information via a form on this page.  I’d love to actually sight the Shining Cuckoos we hear at South Head, but I’ve not been that lucky so far.  Sometimes they seem so close, up in the Lilly Pillies or in one or other of our tall trees, but they are well-camouflaged.  I do feel sorry for the poor Riroriro, though, knowing full well that the cuckoos will lay their huge eggs in their tiny nests.

The partially-built Welcome Swallow nest.
The partially-built Welcome Swallow nest.

A few weeks back, some Warou, or Welcome Swallows started building a nest in the barn.

Sadly, they’ve given up this endeavour.   Probably due to the human ‘comings and goings’.  The first year we were here a whole family was raised in the barn and we loved seeing the parent birds flitting to and fro, and later, the chicks learning to fly.


Many people think that bananas are palms, but in fact they are members of the Musa family of plants.  Our plant is Banana Mons Mari (Musa acuminata), which is a quick-growing dwarf variety.

Two of our sweet little bananas.
Two of our sweet little bananas, (Banana ‘Mons Mari’)

The large bunch of bananas was taking too long to ripen on the plant, so in August we cut the branch down and hung it in the porch with a very large brown paper bag over it.  Because of this they all ripened very quickly and at the same time so we’ve had to eat several each day to avoid wasting them.  They are starting to get a bit ‘past it’ now, but the small fruit are delicious – very sweet.

After removing the fruiting bunch, Ben cut down the whole growing ‘stalk’ and put it through our mulcher.  We then returned this mulch to the base of the plant.  What started out as a huge, fat stalk, was reduced to a remarkably small mush of mulch.

Glimpse of the new flower bud, taken through a bedroom window.
Glimpse of the new flower bud, taken through a bedroom window.

I was wondering yesterday if the plant would produce another flower in the new year… Gazing up at the plant I noticed… a new flower shoot.

It still seems amazing to me that we can actually grow bananas here.  We have three additional baby plants growing in a sheltered corner of the garden – these are suckers that we removed from the plant earlier in the year.

Vegetable Garden

Early potatoes after first 'earthing-up'.
Early potatoes after first ‘earthing-up’.

I’ve spent a couple of days putting work into weeding the remainder of the vegetable garden.  There’s always so much to do here.  The early potatoes we put in a couple of weeks ago are looking really good, so we earthed them up yesterday.

The bad news is that, all but one of the Edamame (Soy Bean, Glycine Max) I sowed on 26 August have been eaten by snails.  The same applies to the Rocket I sowed on 24 August.  Although in the case of the rocket, not a single plant has survived.  I’m not even sure if any sprouted, or if the blackbird hen we see in the garden dug them out, or if they were eaten by some bug in the soil before they had a chance to grow.  Very disappointing, but it’s due to the fact that (again) I try to avoid applying slug and snail bait around the garden.  But yesterday I relented and resowed both the edamame and the rocket.

The newly tidied-up patch of the vegetable garden.
The newly tidied-up patch of the vegetable garden.

I also sowed a row of Lettuce Mesclun Mix and Sugar Snap Peas, and threw in some seeds that are past their ‘sow by’ date.  These were Rock Melon and Sweet Basil.  If they don’t come up I won’t be too disappointed.  I have so many seeds that are past their ‘sow by’ dates – I’ll have to try to be more efficient at using up all the seeds while they are still fresh.

In the above photo you can see a rogue Dill plant flourishing.  These come up all over the garden, but I leave them there (if they aren’t too much in the way) as Ben likes to have fresh dill on hand for Gravad Lax.