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My Sister Viv, has opened a small gallery in Pukehou. It is called “Artistically Inclined’ which is a clever way of inviting people who are creative, but perhaps in unexpected ways. (www.facebook.com/artisticallyinclinedgallery)

Between us, we hatched a plan to bring some fresh work into the gallery, and encourage people to put their creative thinking hats on. We both love the ocean so the idea of a sea based exhibition was born. Well, because it’s a small gallery we thought that a ‘rolling exhibition’ would be good, so that work can be sold and new additions brought in.

When Viv & I were young, we lived on the coast, in Kent, UK & have both always had a strong affinity with the sea & all the creatures that live in it. I spent many hours exploring rockpools, looking for shells and other treasures washed up on the beach and of course we ate a lot of seafood, winkles, cockles, shrimps , prawns, oysters, scampi, eel and marvellous fresh fish.

We also experienced bizarre sightings, one year the whole beach was covered with hundreds of cuttlefish, they swam about in the boating pond until the next tide. Another time huge cream coloured jellyfish arrived looking like so many string mops. Most exciting was the year the sea froze, 1964 I think. There were big slabs of ice strewn all over the beach, as tall as I was, and no sign of water, just a gentle chinking sound as the ice moved on top of the waves. When the ice thawed it left behind an assortment of unusual creatures, including starfish as big as dinner plates & lobsters.

When I was about 11 or 12, I found a Guillemot covered in oil on the beach. A Guillemot looks like a penguin but can fly.  We cleaned it’s feathers with butter and fuller’s earth and nursed it back to health. It lived in the garden shed and every day I fed it strips of fresh fish, and on fine days it would sit under the sprinkler. We knew we could not release it back to the sea until it had moulted and got new feathers. So the next season I dutifully carried it down to the beach and sadly set it down by the water. It took off without a backwards glance and was quickly lost to sight. As I was  turning to go home, someone came up to me & said “I don’t know what it was that you put in the water, but it’s coming back.” So Gilly came back home & stayed with us for several years.

It may have been that Gilly was a victim of the Torrey Canyon disaster, 1967, a huge super tanker that ran aground spilling millions of gallons of oil. I clearly remember walking our small beach at Westgate and counting over 50 dead seabirds, covered in black oil.

When I was fifteen I got a part-time job in a vets, & over the 18 months I worked there I took home a number of seabirds including a very fierce Herring Gull, a Razorbill and a Puffin, and another Guillemot. Later still when I was in high school in Tavistock, part of the A Level Zoology course included studying marine biology. For 2 years we spent a week each summer staying in a hostel and visiting about 8 different beaches, where we named and counted and measured all the sea life we could see. I used to know all the latin names of the seaweeds and animals, but alas I can’t recall them all now. One of the things I learnt then was the effect that different levels of exposure have on the creatures. Steep rock faces, fierce waves or sheltered estuary beds all provide habitats for different combinations of life.

Ok, back to the gallery…after spending some time looking for images to inspire us, both Viv & I could not avoid the awful truth of what is happening to our oceans & the precious & incredible life they support. I knew about the Pacific Gyre of plastic, but the scale & horror of the plastics in the seas was and is, truly appalling. In an effort not to be totally overwhelmed and despondent I have put together a ‘Devastation Menu’ it has been a lot of work collating information and putting it together, so I thought it would be worth sharing it here. As I was pondering these things I remembered that we had a project at school when I was 12 to paint images from the local beaches and I had collected a big pile of plastic debris and painted them. My attempt at conservation was not encouraged & I had completely forgotten it until just the other day, fifty years on. Things certainly haven’t improved since then.

So below is my latest foray into creative conservation. Thanks for caring enough to read it.

 

This is a link to an article in the local paper about the exhibition:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/hawkes-bay-today/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503462&objectid=12026539

I see too, that New World & The Warehouse are starting to implement collection points for recycling soft plastics. As yet they haven’t reached Hawkes Bay but are available in Auckland, Wellington and much of the South Island. We shall all have to start asking for that option, as it seems almost impossible to completely avoid plastics in our every day lives.

 

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Despite my best intentions to write this up as soon as we got home, it’s now two months since we made this trip. Since our previous trip with the ancient caravan, we have made some serious repairs to it. We’ve waterproofed the roof with a rubberised paint, and replaced a whole lot of timber around the door frame, which had rotted to a soggy mess and meant that opening and shutting the door had been a hit and miss affair. So it was with renewed (and not misplaced) optimism that we set off to Paekakariki. We’ve stayed at the camp site there before and knew it would be the perfect base camp. The Paekakariki Holiday Park is set just inside the Queen Elizabeth Park , right at the far northern end of the settlement so it is quiet and rural, with easy and interesting tracks to walk, to the beach and along wooded paths. Of course we chose to go out of season, partly because of our commitments to harvesting herbs through the Summer, and partly because we wanted a quiet time.

View of Paekakariki Beach

Smooth landing

Kapitit Island was the highlight of our trip, we were very lucky to go over on the one stunningly fine day of the week we were away. We booked the trip with http://www.kapitiexplorer.nz/ which provided a ferry trip each way, plus an explanatory talk on arrival. We also decided to take advantage of walking with a guide for part of the day, and this was really worthwhile too, providing us with lots of extra observations and information.

Very good tracks

Geoff and Kaka

Check in time was 8.30 am, and we received a confirmation text about 7 to confirm the trip was to go ahead. Setting off armed with plenty of food supplies, and clothing for every possible outcome, we set off. The weather was perfect, the sea calm and sparkling, the fully laden  boat set off, the trip over taking about 15 minutes. Before we even reached the island we could hear a wonderful chorus of bird song, and see many birds flying around the bush clad hills. It was like stepping back in time, imagining how much of New Zealand would have once resonated with such

rich life.

After the introductory talk about 6 of us set off with our guide, among other things, we saw the debris of twigs and berries that the Kaka leave under their feeding spots, we saw the chewed seed heads of Flak that the Kakariki love to eat. There was a very desultory collection of twigs overhead, which we learnt was a Kereru nest, way up the hill we found a tunnel that was a Little Blue Penguin burrow, it was hard to believe that the penguins would travel so far.

View from track, Kapiti Island

Kapiti Island Beach

When our guide left us we carried on up the track to the feeding station, here we saw Saddlebacks, Stitchbirds, North Island Robins, Bellbirds, a Weka and most excitingly a Kaka, which landed on Geoff’s shoulder. For me that was enough hill walking, so we retraced our steps down to the coast, where we had our lunch and enjoyed watching all the bird activity. It was a magical day out, we highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in conservation and our beautiful bird life.  Next time I think we’ll stay overnight to see the Little Spotted Kiwi and hear the Kokako, there are also Takahe on the island but they were up in the tops in March, so perhaps we’ll see them next visit.The link below is the DOC brochure which shows you all the wildlife to be found on Kapiti.

http://www.doc.govt.nz/Documents/parks-and-recreation/places-to-visit/wellington/kapiti-island-brochure.pdf

Of course we spent a lovely time in and around Paekak, and even venturing into Wellington one very wet day to see the WW1 Exhibition at the War Memorial Museum, and to browse the many temptations at Moore Wilsons, but the other highlight for us was visiting the upstairs gallery above the Cafes in Paekakariki, ‘Alan Wehipeihana Studio & Gallery,’ a wonderful creative space, with all sorts of intriguing artworks and inspiration. We really enjoyed talking with Alan and exploring the large area set aside for artists, what a great place to be creative in.

Just recently we have come across some new creatures in the garden that we haven’t seen before.  Aparasitic wasp that feeds on Lemon Tree Borer, it has striking patterns & distinctive white tips to it’s antenna. One site I found said that it may also feed on Codlin Moth larvae, which would be very useful in our orchard.

Lemon Tree Borer Parasite (Xanthocryptus novozealandicus)

Lemon Tree Borer Parasite (Xanthocryptus novozealandicus)

Green Tufted Lichen Moth

Green Tufted Lichen Moth

We also found a cool Moth, called the Tufted Lichen Moth, it’s not flashy, but using our cool new camera with a microscope function we could clearly see the tufts on it’s wings that give it it’s name.

 

Thirdly we came across a bright yellow ladybird, which was easy to identify. It is a Fungus eating Ladybird, which sounded useful, but apparently it stores spores of  powdery mildew or similar under it’s wing cases over Winter, while it hibernates & so can ensure it will have a food supply. Despite this habit I think it looks very cool & am happy to take my chances. It is always exciting to find something new, & interesting finding out just what it is. These small details of nature are amazing, the strangeness & complexity of it all. I’ve been visiting a website that helps with info & identification  called Nature Watch NZ, it’s well worth a visit.

Fungus Eating Ladybird Illeis galbula

Fungus Eating Ladybird Illeis galbula

A few weeks ago our son, Giles discovered some new & interesting spiders living near his home. These looked like tiny droplets of mercury, some were minute, and all we could see was a small glimmer of light reflecting off them. Good old Google images came up with a name, Dew Drop Spiders, or to give them their full name Argyrodes antipodianus. These originate from Australia but are pretty well spread throughout NZ. They are described as ‘kleptoparasitic’ – parasites by theft, which is a new word for me. This tiny spider makes a web which is attached to a host spider’s web, & from this it can sense when small prey are entrapped, small enough that the host spider doesn’t notice. The Dew Drop Spider makes a sortie onto the web, grabs its dinner & hastily retreats back to its own web.

Dew Drop Spider

After having a good look at the Dew Drops we wandered around looking to see if we could find any more on the fences. I came across quite a large web, with what looked at first to be a bird dropping on it, but as I looked more closely I could see some sort of spider in the middle. As we watched this very odd shaped spider came out to bundle up a fly, then it took it back into the central line, adding to what I’d first thought was a bird dropping. Above the web, there were three brown blobs, which we took to be tree gum or something similar, later, via Google again we found that these were egg cases for the spider. Now some weeks later they are still unchanged.

Information I have gathered about this weird spider, it’s official name is Cyclosa trilobata, a native to NZ. It belongs to the Orb Spider  category, & it seems that it’s habit of crouching in the middle of it’s fly debris may be a form of camouflage. They vary a lot in colour, grey, black, red, browns & silvers, & the males perhaps have more silver markings. Some of their Australian cousins make the most stunning webs, but this one is pretty unremarkable.

Three Lobed Spider Egg Cases Three Lobed Spider

In March 2014 I wrote an article about the health of our waterways, & had entered a piece of fibre art into the Nelson Fibre Art exhibition called ‘Downstream.’ I’ve just been reading an article in the Listener about a scientist called Mike Joy who is taking a stand for the wellbeing of New Zealands fresh water resources, here is the link:    http://www.listener.co.nz/current-affairs/ecologic/river-stance/

Our Creek Millstream

I’m interested in the study of species found in the water that act as indicators of water health or otherwise. I’m going to do some research of my own & report back what I find out. At the moment I can’t even identify many species so shall have to get familiar with those creatures we may hope to find in our own creek & other waterways. I have noticed that there seem to be few koura or freshwater crayfish around at the moment & this is unusual as we often see dozens in one spot. We also continue to have large rafts of algae in the slower running places, which block the stream & exacerbate growth of duckweed etc which further blocks the flow, hard to tell if this is a result of upstream pollution or simply that one of the large willows fell down & there is more sunlight warming the water & feeding the algae.The link below is informative on the process of checking the invertebrates in a given water supply. (benthic means at the lowest level, eg. the bottom of a stream bed, including silt.

Now it’s April, I have had one foray into the creek with a net & bucket, but alas also with leaky gumboots, which dampened my enthusiasm. The leaky boots also hindered my attempts to find critters to identify since I am a total sook about cold water. I took a few photos, & identified a couple of things,(I have meantime lost the piece of paper with their names on,) so on the whole it was not a hugely successful outing. We have some intrepid friends visiting this weekend & shall have a more thorough go at finding  some creatures & identifying them. Hopefully I can add some more useful info after that.

Critters from creek march2016 005 (Copy)

http://cber.bio.waikato.ac.nz/images/Macroinvertebrates_and_water_quality.pdf

(2015) About six months ago we decided it would be great to add a natural sunscreen to our range. Little did we realise how complex and exacting the process would be…read on

We have accumulated so much information about sunscreens that our brains have gone on strike, a bit like the feeling I get five minutes after starting a conversation with our accountant.

Here are some relevant facts to start with:

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, it works a bit like the Richter Scale for earthquakes, in other words to a lay person it’s rather confusing. An SPF 15 blocks 93.3% of UV rays, an SPF 30 blocks 96.7%, and SPF 50 blocks 98% so 30 is not double 15 as you would think, and not 30 times longer in the sun either. There are now limitations on SPF claims -50 being the highest.

ANapier Beacht present it’s not compulsory in NZ to get a sunscreen tested, but it seems a necessity to have an SPF value. Testing is available in Australia. There are 2 methods of measuring SPF: in a laboratory, which is called ‘in vitro’ & on people which is called ‘in vivo.’ At present the ‘in vivo’ system is the one with the most clout here & in Australia, but overseas it is being phased out. It seems an oddly unscientific method, where volunteers are tested with small patches of sunscreen for various amounts of time, in a controlled environment & a figure is arrived at. I’ll come back to these tests in a while.

At first it seemed quite simple, Google provided us with much data about natural oils & their SPFs. We read that Carrot Seed Oil & Sacred Basil Oil had SPFs of 40 or so. How hard could it be to make a mix with an Olive & Coconut Oil base, add some Zinc oxide (ZnO) & away we go.

We’d heard that ZnO nano particles were bad guys, we didn’t want those. We read research that criticised the chemical sunscreens, these work by being absorbed into the deeper layers of your skin, & whilst screening you from the Sun they also got absorbed into your body.  There are also reports that these products can cause skin irritaion & allergies. They are implicated as endocrine disruptors & contain skin penetration enhancers, which mean that people working with other chemicals, such as pesticides are at risk.

At first it seemed that there had been a difference between a sunscreen & a sunblock, a sunblock like ZnO works by creating a protective & reflective barrier on top of the skin, rather than inside it…but no that’s too logical, we must now call them all sunscreens.

wairarapa trip march 2015 073 (shrunk)

OK, so we’re wanting to make a sunscreen that’s a sunblock, but we can’t call it that. We started by looking at all the natural oils & butters that had an SPF rating. We combined 2 recipes, an old one by Elizabeth Francke & a more modern one we found online. There were a lot of ingredients, strong black tea, lanolin, sesame oil, coconut oil, shea butter, several essential oils, but not citrus oils. We made a batch using pharmaceutical grade ZnO. We passed it out to friends & family. It smelt rather deliciously of food, it looked like putty, it rubbed on nicely. Feedback was positive.

Next step was to get some idea of the SPF rating, this required sending a sample over to Oz for testing. We were feeling pretty optimistic. Some $500 later the results told us it was not great, only SPF9. It seems that the SPF ratings for natural oils etc cannot be relied on to give a good SPF figure, dammit!!

Back to the drawing board, we sourced a finer grade of ZnO, micronised, we put more into the recipe, we beat the mixture for longer, apparently it is notoriously difficult to blend. We sent off a sample…we waited, we waited some more,the sample went missing, we sent off another sample (tracked for $40.) We waited, we alternated between optimism & pessimism, if this didn’t work we’d give it up as a bad idea. Result: SPF12, bugger!! another$500 gone, close but no banana (Geoff points out that I should say ‘No cigar’ & that I am being very PC by not referring to smoking- purely random brain function on my part).

After more consultation we looked again at the nano particle information, we found a place in Perth that made a range of Zinc oxide nano products in plant based oils. The product is Eco-certified, which is encouraging, the base mix is a coconut oil derivative. We looked again at the information on nano particles, it seems that much of the info was from 2008 & had been revised. Both the TGA & EWG reports & Cancer Council Australia deem it safe to use, looking at present time evaluations. The initial scare was that these small particles could be absorbed through the skin, this has proved not to be the case.

ZnO forms aggregates which are larger in size, and this creates some of the confusions around ZnO particle size. There seems to be confusion generally around the nano definition & how it is interpreted and measured. Some sunscreens that have made claims not to contain any nano particles actually do contain them.

Weighing up the pros & cons, it seems that the Zinc oxide with nano particles is a safer option than a chemical sunscreen which is absorbed into the skin.

  • As  ZnO forms a physical barrier it is ready to go as soon as you apply it, you don’t have to wait 20 minutes.
  • ZnO sits on the surface of the skin & is not absorbed into it. Points of  potential entry would be through damaged skin.
  • In cream form, rather than spray or cosmetic powder there is no chance of inhaling it.
  • The finer particles have a much bigger surface area & are more effective as a sunblock.
  • The finer particles do not whiten the skin so much as the larger grades, so consumers are more inclined to use appropriate amounts.

The risk of sun damage far outweighs the risks of not using a sunscreen. The Cancer Council Australia has good information on the topic, and comments that if a product is labelled whether or not it contains nano particles, then the consumer can make up their own mind.

So we’ve come full circle, & have decided that on balance we feel that ZnO nano particles dispersed in an oil base offer a reliable way of getting a good sunscreen, with consistent results. We were sent a sample of ZinclearXP65COCO & made two batches which we sent back to their lab to be assessed. The ZnO is dispersed 65% in an oil base called Coco caprylate/caprate, which is derived from coconut oil. The product has Eco cert & Natural Products certification. It is biodegradeable.

The latest results from Dermatest  are below:

(28/2/2017) This was a preliminary test, and we hope to get a full testing in the Spring of 2018

Here are the results & explanations for the values:

Parameters

Millstream
Sunscreen #1

 SPF

34.8

Pass

Critical Wavelength 

373.00

Pass

UVAPF 

17.72

Pass

UVAPF/SPF
(≥ 0.33 for UVA requirement)

0.590

Pass

 The estimated in-vivo SPF value for the  sunscreen is 34.8 

Critical Wavelength– The critical wavelength is an additional requirement for UVA logo, it must be equal or higher than 370, both your samples passed the specification at critical wavelength of 373.

 UVAPF and UVAPF/ SPF – For European regulation, there is also a requirement to provide the consumer with a minimum level of UVA protection in relation to the SPF. This should be “UVA PF” or at least 1/3 (0.33) of the SPF to carry the UVA seal. 

 The good thing about Zinclear XP65COCO that you used for this formulation is that it has high Zinc Oxide loading and it’s already in a dispersed form. As long as you are consistent with your technique in mixing Zinclear with the bulk and in homogenising the emulsion, you’ll achieve good SPF rating.

Meantime we have done the best we can, & all the other ingredients in our recipe are user friendly, even the emulsifier & preservative are Eco certified. We have included lanolin as a water protector, but we make no claims that this is water resistant (that requires more tests & more $$).

Other things to consider when looking at sunscreens are:

  • The balancing act between skin protection & getting the Vitamin D you need.
  • Other ways to protect yourself including avoiding the hottest part of the day, wearing a hat & light clothing.
  • Using the appropriate amount of sunscreen  as recommended, re-applying as needed, especially after swimming.
  • One rule of thumb is a teaspoon per body part or area: 1 teaspoon for your face, head, and neck; 1 for each arm; 1 for each leg; 1 for your chest and abdomen, and 1 for your back and the back of your neck, although you won’t need so much of our sunscreen, your skin shouldn’t look white once it is rubbed in. Regardless of which SPF you use, apply it 15 to 30 minutes before going outside to allow it to adhere to skin, then reapply at least every 2 hours—more often if you’re swimming or sweating excessively.

There’s lots of info online, this is just the tip of the iceberg, so check it out & make your own choices. Below are a few of sites we referred to:

Farewell to Rifkin

Our old dog Rifkin died peacefully last weekend. She was a beardie, bearded collie, 14 plus years old.

It’s a long time to share one’s life & I just wanted to put a wee tribute to her here.

DSCF2186 (shrunk) jan 2011 kaiya 023 (shrunk) DSCF1574 (shrunk)

Rifkin was the third beardie we have owned, & we still have  Didgit, (#4) to keep us company. Finding Rif was one of those wonderful, serendipitous occasions: we had been looking for a beardie pup for sometime. The night before we were due to go to Palmerston North to see someone off at the airport, I had a dream. I dreamt that we found a puppy, & I was carrying her, soft & warm, with her head resting on my shoulder.

te onepu postcard 048 (shrunk) te onepu postcard 065 (shrunk) Blog 14 10 008 (shrunk)

When we were in Palmy, tired of shopping, we decided to visit a pet shop on the outskirts of town. It was a place we used to go to with our daughter, when she was a student. As we arrived in the carpark I suddenly recalled my dream, & said to Geoff ‘I should warn you, I think we’ll find a beardie pup here.’ And so it was… what a special beginning. Rifkin was named after much deliberation & argument, after a gaffer or some such on a Michael Palin doco. She was frequently referred to as ‘Whatamess’ because her long fur & large hairy feet seemed to collect all manner of garden debris & spread it about the house.

Didgit 8 months DSCF2189 (shrunk) book pics 040 (shrunk)

She was a most gentle & patient soul, sitting for ages while I’d clip clumps of mud from between her toes, or cut tangles out of her coat. Rif was also very smart, in later years she learnt to play soccer, using her nose & front legs to dribble a ball, & also to bounce a ball back to you with her nose. I’ve written about her recovery from a tumour nearly 3 years ago, after that she always barked like a hoarse seal, which was just as well since Didgit has such a loud bark it makes our ears ring & the windows rattle.

In the Winter one of our favourite games was kitchen soccer, a rowdy, mad game with much scrabbling & barking, as a tennis ball was rebounded off the side walls of the kitchen & both dogs would try to get it. Rif learnt to hold the ball in her mouth, tip her head up & bounce the ball, so she could catch it again. In more recent months she got a bit cautious of playing with Didge, who would get so excited she’d send Rif’s legs out from under her.

Last week two amazing things happened, that kind of close the circle. I had a distance healing with Chakra Dance Vicky, she told me she got a message about loving animals but letting them go when the time was right. Because it seemed obscure, she didn’t tell me until after Rif had died. In the meantime my Aunt rang me with a poem from a dog to it’s owner, saying goodbye. It felt very special to receive such clear messages that Rif was ready to go, & for us to let her. She died at home, peacefully, with our arms around her, in her favourite sunny spot. We feel so blessed to have had her company, love & loyalty, her trust & joy de vivre.

Rifkin (shrunk) may, giles 015 (shrunk)

We still think we see her or hear her around the place & it will take time to get used to her absence.

Amazing Wairarapa

Geoff & I took the old caravan on an outing to explore the Wairarapa a few weeks ago. What an amazing, wild & varied place. I thought I’d just put in a bit of a photographic essay to tempt you all to go exploring.

We stayed at Mount Holdsworth, Lake Ferry, Ngawi & Castle Point.

We came back on the Monday that the cyclone was due & had a bit of excitement, first the brakes went on the Terrano just as we left Castle Point. We were very lucky that we could pull over safely, & we got rescued by the AA, (not for the first time!) It was a broken alternator belt, which drives the vacuum pump for the brakes, (so Geoff informs me.) Luckily we could make coffee & cook breakfast in the caravan while we waited. Then we took the ‘short-cut’ via Alfreston, which was very scary, muddy & like 40km of forestry tracks. Eventually we arrived safely in Eketahuna, covered in mud & a bit shaken…not a route for the faint hearted, or those anticipating a cyclone.

Mount Holdsworth Mystery plant?? Mount Holdsworth, Geoff being brave Mosses & Lichens, Mount Holdsworth Rewarewa Lake Ferry

The Pinnacles Cape Palliser, Wairarapa  Cape Palliser, wairarapa

Ngawi, wairarapa Tinky Winky, wairarapa Look cute, smell bad!!

The Pinnacles Castle Point

A couple of weeks ago we noticed some new wasp-like insects, busily pollinating the Siberican Motherwort plants. They were marked just like wasps, but flew like bees, or hovered a bit, every now & then there would be a flurry as two larger bees fought, or a large one grabbed a smaller one.

Honey Bee (left) Wool Carder Bee (right)

Honey Bee (left) Wool Carder Bee (right)

Wool Carder Bee

Wool Carder Bee

 

We’ve discovered the best way to find out new things on google is to go to ‘Images’ to search, much quicker than trolling through loads of websites, so off we went in search of this rather alarming new visitor, and this is what we learnt:

These new insects are in the family Megachilidae: which includes Leafcutters & Mason Bees. They are Solitary Bees, not forming large colonies like the Honey Bee. The females are about half the size of the males, they have specialised rows of hairs on their legs, which they use to scrape ‘wool’ the downy fur from leaves like Woolly Lambsear. They carry this wool beneath their bodies, & use it to line their nests. The nests are found in disturbed habitats, cavities in rotting wood, & timber stacks etc.

The larger males are very territorial, attacking & chasing off any other pollinators from their patch, they also harrass the females, and “immobilise them, trying repeatedly to mate” not very endearing habits! Although they seem aggressive there does not seem to be any evidence that the Wool Carders are damaging our native bee populations or affecting the honey bees to any noticeable extent. The Wool Carders gather pollen from exotic plant species, with long tubular flowers, & have a preference for purple & blue flowers, although in our garden they were only found around the Leonurus sibericus flowers, which are pink. As yet we haven’t found any nests, but there is so much wilderness around the creek, they could be anywhere.

 wool bee 008 (shrunk) wool bee 024 (shrunk)

Our ports are our vulnerable spots for new species to enter NZ and these bees were first noted in 2006 in Napier & Nelson, since then they have spread out to over a dozen locations. I think in our garden since we stopped keeping bees, & the wild bees died from varroa, a much larger variety of pollinators are present in our gardens, this is reassuring in a way, that nature is filling the gap. We see far more Hover Flies, Drone Flies, Bumble Bees & Native Bees than we used to.

The other shift we’ve noticed over the last 5 years or so, is that we have less of the red & black spotted Ladybirds & more of the irridescent Steel Blue Ladybirds, this year a new arrival was the Yellow Shouldered Ladybird, which looks like a dusty blue bug, with big yellow spots, these were most often found feeding on the aphids at the top of the Swan Plants. They were impossible to photograph!!

It’s unsettling having new things arriving & wondering what these changes mean, & also missing old friends like the Magpie Moth & Cinnabar Moth, which used to be common in our gardens.

Well, our new system for growing tomatoes seems to be working well, so I thought I would put it here, in case someone wants to try it. What we have found, is that the low growing bush varieties, especially Scoresby Dwarf, are cropping really well, but the staked ones are not so prolific.Next year we shall grow perhaps 6 or 8 staked plants to add colour & variety, but stick to Scoresby Dwarf for our main crop. We have been diligent in removing any leaves that look unhealthy.

Tomato Harvest Veges from Garden

The original directions said to dig a hole 60cm deep & bury fish heads in it, but we didn’t manage to get hold of fish heads, so we improvised. In a bucket we mixed dried coffee grounds, epsom salts, plant mycorrhizal powder (from our local health shop),crushed, dried egg shells & worm castings.

We dug deepish holes, not 60cm, & put a good handful or two of this mix into the hole, followed by one disprin per plant. We trimmed off the lower leaves on our plants, so that the lower 10cm or so of the stems were bare, & planted them up to where  the leaves started.

The plants have grown well, & are providing us with plenty of fruit. Once a week Geoff sprays them with his special brew, which is 2L elder leaf liquid, & 3L comfrey/nettle/seaweed liquid fertiliser &  worm wees. This spray is designed to keep the psyllids at bay, & so far it’s working. The peppers & eggplants, & spuds also get a dose.

To make the elder leaf liquid fill a large saucepan 2/3 full of leaves, cover with cold water & bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 mins, cool then strain into bottles. It seems to keep several weeks ok. Simplest method of straining is to fold some net curtain into the funnel you use for filling the bottles.

Whenever the coffee grounds collect up, I mix them with some epsom salts, about 1:1 & sprinkle around the base of the plants.

So far we have made 9kg of the roasted “Harvest Tomato Sauce” (Annabell Langbein’s recipe), for pasta etc, & put in freezer, that’s about 30 cups worth, also have several batches of Ratatouille in the freezer, which is great for using the extra eggplants & zucchini, & shall definitely make lots more. This is a real treat in the Winter, when it reminds us of warm Summer days. Especially good added to Lamb Casseroles, with a tin of chickpeas & some Middle Eastern Spices.