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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
They’ll be great sauteed in butter and stirred through some freshly made pasta.
After the Harvest
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fortunately, the other plum tree is situated out of the worst of the wind. It’s still laden with fruit.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …
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.
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.