Category: April


Geoff & I have just spent a glorious couple of days, staying in a friends bach at Mangakuri Beach. It’s one of my most favourite places, with long sweeping stretches of polished, wet sand, which reflects the varying shades of  the sky.  There is hardly ever more than a few people there, if we go out of the busy season, a fact I never take for granted, having grown up on the Kentish coast, where you were lucky to squeeze onto a piece of sand the size of your beach towel, between the crowds also guarding their space.

Mangakuri at Low Tide

Ever since those early days, living by the sea I have had a love & fascination for the myriad forms of life that inhabit the rock pools & environs. So, despite it being an official ‘holiday’ for us, I got up early, & with Geoff & Didgit in tow,  headed off to explore the rocks at low tide. It’s some years since we have stayed at Mangakuri, & it has weathered severe floods in that time. We were dismayed to find, or rather ‘not find’ many of the creatures we were expecting to be living in the pools & under rocks. We did find quite a few Kina, & young Paua, plus their kin the Shield Shells, there were plenty of those little dark green crabs, with one claw bigger than the other, there were Limpits,Chitons, Cat’s Eyes & Barnacles, & a few Whelks. We saw two large purple starfish, a Sea Centipede & a few worms. What we didn’t see were any Hermit Crabs, usually abundant over most of the pools, no Sea Anemones, no Cushion Stars or their delicate relations the Brittle Stars. Where are the Seaweed Crabs & the little Octopus?

Mangakuri Rock Pools

Does anyone know why this beautiful beach & others nearby are so depleted in wildlife? Is it the ongoing effects of the floods, perhaps mud or sand being re-distributed? Is it the various effluents & chemicals getting washed down stream from farms much further away? Whatever it is, it is cause for concern, what was once a richly varied & teeming environment is now much poorer & depleted. I would really appreciate to hear from anyone who can perhaps shed some light on this situation.

I was talking to my Grandson about Hermit Crabs just the other day, & asked him if he’d ever seen one. when he replied that he hadn’t, I had airily said that we would take him to the beach & show him some….I hope we haven’t missed our chance.

Didgit meets a wave

Pumps, Puppies & Pruning

Finally we’ve had some rain, enough to make  the gardens breath a sigh of relief & us with it. It’s amazing how centralised the rain has been over the last few weeks, we had reports of heavy downpours both sides of Pukehou some days, but not a drop would arrive here.

So far the total for April is 45ml which is not a huge amount but enough to make the grass grow & keep our sheep happy, we’ve been pruning back the willows & orchard every few days to keep them fed. That has been a good system as we have managed to prune quite a few trees in the process. A couple of our native trees have died & the garden looks decidedly ragged but it will all bounce back again.

I love the Autumn, I feel like it’s a perfect time to tackle all those tidying up jobs that have been looking at me accusingly during the hot, dry days of Summer. Time to prune, dig out Blackberries, re-plan the herb & vege gardens. This year we are putting in a new water pump that runs on petrol, Geoff had a brainwave to do this. For ages we have had a pump on mains supply, but because it’s near the road we’ve been paying a separate supply charge for it, talk about slow on the uptake…actually that’s an appropriate pun. We only use the pump in dry periods to top up our house supply & water the grounds, drawing water from our creek, so this new set up will be perfect. I think we got hung up on using our existing pump & getting a generator, or running a cable from the house, which is already at the upper end of power supply.

Didgit 15weeks Rif & Didgit

We’ve been using our still to make hydrosols, specifically Lemon Balm & Bay for Rifkin, our dog. I don’t know if you read that she was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph glands, last July. She had a big lump on her neck that grew fast, & we only expected to have her for a few months. We’ve been putting the hydrosol, 2 caps in about 1.5 L water in her drinking bowl for the last 3 months or so. The lump has just about gone, it’s about 1/10 the size it was. I still am amazed & inspired at the healing power of herbs. Bay is a herb for lymph glands & Lemon Balm is reputed to be a tumour buster. If you plan to try any either of these, please check with health professionals & use responsibly, this is only anecdotal evidence.

Meanwhile, Didgit our new Beardie puppy is growing very fast. She is sweet natured & mostly gentle! when she gets bored she roams the house looking for mischief, & usually finding it. She & Rif have finally started to play together, which is brilliant, lots of silent tooth gnashing & tug of war games.

We’ve picked up about 6 onion bags of walnuts so far, but I see there are dozens more under the tree waiting to be collected. We also have a great harvest of Chillies, we’re leaving them on the bushes until we have ingredients & time to make sauces etc. The Feijoas are just starting to drop, probably my favourite fruit ever. We’ve discovered if we leave the fruit under the tree they keep better than if we bring them into the warm house.

After I wrote this blog yesterday, I went off to pick up more walnuts, & there was a hedgehog ambling around, sniffing the open shells looking for nuts to eat. It turns out that it was responsible for the empty shells, not rats! I’m very happy to have a hedgehog foraging in our garden, & we even managed to take some photos. I love the one of it with it’s tongue sticking out.

Hedgehog 1 Hedgehog 2 Hedgehog 3

Harvests & Colour

We’ve had a couple of light frosts, enough to hit the Kumara vines & Taro leaves. So we’ve dug the kumara, handling them very gently. We put them in a basket to cure for a week or so. Now we’ve wrapped them in newspaper & stored in a chilly bag. The tiny ones & any that had been damaged, we’ve kept out to eat first.We’re digging spuds as wee need them, but soon will dig up the rest to store, we don’t want them to rot if we get a long wet spell. That seems unlikely at the moment as it’s amazingly hot & dry.Today we started to attack our firewood pile. This is the first year I think that we shall be self sufficient in firewood. Geoff cut down about 8 of our gum trees in October, & the wood has been stacked in lengths. It’s great to be using our own wood, & know that a large number of the cut trees will coppice & make new growth.I went on an excursion with  friends, to Frimley Park in Hastings. It was a beautiful day, & the park was so peaceful. We all took our cameras, so I shall add in a few of my pics.  It’s a great thing to have parks in town, such a sane idea & I love to see all the various people using the space & appreciating the natural world.

autumn-hops.jpg

It’s been a while since I updated news from Millstream, as usual we’ve had a mix of events, & the weather has influenced things. Five of our lovely lambs died, which was very upsetting for us, &  after some investigation we learnt that they had most probably died from Pulpy Kidney. They died over a period of about 3 weeks, usually with no sign of sickness one day, then dead the next. Most were in great condition, since feed has been abundant this year.Ironically it seems that the extra feed could have been the catalyst.  As I understand it, the  Pulpy Kidney is a result of a rapid rise of certain bacteria in the gut, that release toxins, which overwhelm the sheep. The bacteria exist in the gut usually…I think, but can also be picked up from dust & dry soil under trees, & it reproduces rapidly in certain feed conditions. Traditional farmers  vaccinate against it, before the ewes lamb & the lambs carry resistance for about 2 months. We’ve vaccinated the rest of our flock & I think we’re over the worst of it now. We’ll vaccinate our ewes before lambing & see how we go. I think a lot of farms have had a problem this year. We’ve been told that a drench of Garlic & Gingko might work, but at the moment we have $75 worth of vaccine in the fridge, which lasts 12 months, & is probably enough for about 10 years supply for us. Gardening is so much easier to cope with, when plants look sick they can be relegated to the compost with little trauma, but the whole thing of dealing with sick & dead animals is hard & distressing. Luckily our new Suffolks have survived, but our sturdy new ewe lambs are much diminished, aaaah me.

On a positive note, we met Julian Matthews in January, he used to be the editor for the Gardener some years back & now works freelance. How odd is this? writing about someone who wrote about us? Anyway Geoff said he knew right away he was a good guy, as his opening words were ‘are those Inula?” (a kind of ‘in joke’ for gardeners) we love people who talk plants with us. Anyway, cups of tea, several rolls of film  & much talk later, our chance meeting turned into an article in the April edition of the Gardener. What a great bit of publicity for us.

How is it there is an old song  about gathering nuts in May? which must surely be an English song, but seems like quite the wrong time of year. I’ve been humming it today as I’ve photographed some of our crop, I know it’s April, but close enough. After moaning the last few years about our dirth of walnuts, we are inundated this year. I have trays of them drying in the greenhouse & drying caravan, & still they come. The Almonds have been amazing too, we realised that usually the sheep eat the fleshy outers, & since the sheep are in a different pasture we are having to split them open, they are red fleshed inside & have plump, reddish nuts which are quite wet. They too are drying in the greenhouse.

The Horse Chestnuts are falling, they are so beautiful, I love them & always gather them up into little baskets. This year however we have a use for them. After watching, “Grow Your Own Drugs” we are going to whizz them up in vodka to make a tincture, which we’ll mix with Aloe vera gel as a remedy for varicose veins.

I think it’s so satisfying to grow beautiful things & then discover good uses for them as well.   The Sweet Chestnuts are dropping too, I’d like to have a go at making Hummus this year, in my spare time!! We have manged to freeze a lot of fruit, & make 2 big batches of our Golden Autumn Pickle, which uses up peaches & tomatoes.

The plan is to convert some of the frozen produce into edible delights over the winter months.We’re heading towards getting our work kitchen registered, so we can make some condiments to sell. We have had a water filter sitting under the spare bed for a year, & kept saying ‘we must get onto that’ as one does. Finally we decided that Geoff should crawl under the house,( it was a consensus decision, honestly) & look at the maze of pipes & make a plan. About here, fate stepped in, the drainpipe from the bath had been leaking under the house, for quite a while, as Geoff was manouvring himself in the narrow space he knocked a waterline. The fittings were all 25 years old & brittle…you can guess the rest. Happy ending is that our trusty plumber Andy & his stalwart & rather muddied side-kick Emma sorted us out, repaired the worn joints & wonder of wonders we now have filtered water. Pure luxury.

Harvesting & More Harvesting!

We’re slowly sinking under the weight of produce our gardens are providing, it’s both wonderful & a little daunting. All of a sudden, just as we were sighing with relief to have processed the pears & peaches, peppers etc there is a new & bigger glut, apples, several types, crabapples, chestnuts, walnuts & figs, not to forget the spuds & pumpkins. The chillies we thought had finished with the early frosts, are ripening a whole lot more fruit. The feijoas are just starting to drop too.

One of the things we love about Autumn is the colour. We watched a documentary about Andrew Goldsworthy, who is one of my most favourite artists. Its called ‘Rivers & Tides’ I think, & you can find it on YouTube. We were inspired to have a play in the creek, & pinned some grape leaves together by their stalks. A small start, we have lots of ideas to play with now.

Yikes, the freezer is filling rapidly, our store caravan is full of pumpkins & walnuts, how much can we pickle, bottle & turn into cider in a few weeks? People are starting to avoid meeting our gaze, as we try & persuade them to take a few more chestnuts & maybe some figs too? The thing is when you start out & plant a few trees, it seems impossible that one day they will create more food than you can use, & it feels awful to let it go to waste. The other thing for me, is that I’m part squirrel, so the drive to process & store fruit etc is hard to resist. I’m also a compulsive firewood gatherer, it just feels so secure to have the woodshed full for the Winter.

Have you read that childrens book called ‘Jam” it’s a great story about a family who have a plum tree. when the first plums fall there is much excitement, & the plums are collected & made into jam, by the father. Over a period of time he has made so much plum jam, he’s forced to resort to filling the cups, teapot, eggcups etc with jam. Gradually as the family eats it’s way through the jam, the household crockery comes back into use. The family starts to dream of having other spreads on it’s toast, then there is a thump on the roof, oh no, the next lot of plums is starting to drop!!

Ok now the good news, we’ve processed a big batch of Sweet Chestnuts & put them in the freezer. These are great later on, to use in stuffing for Turkey or Chicken, also with Brussel sprouts, in shortbread & cakes. If you gather Chestnuts & want to keep them a while, put them in a bag in the fridge, as they dry out quite quickly in the house.

For freezing, it’s a simple process, cut the nuts in half, & put into boiling water. When the water starts to boil again, time 7 1/2 minutes, then strain & plunge into iced water to chill. I cooked mine in our pasta pot, & it was easy to drain them & put them into the sink to chill, then drain again. We have 3 different trees, some are like hedgehogs , & one  is not nearly so spiky. I think the spiky ones peel easier than the other ones. Some peel with the help of a little knife, & others we scooped out with teaspoons.

Last year I got as far as storing them in the fridge, in anticipation of cooking them, but never got any further. Some months later, when we cleaned out the fridge, there were a number of nuts that had sprouted, & these have readily grown into small trees, which we have given away!

Geoff’s made a big batch of Green Tomato Pickle, (he mixes several recipes together, & then adds extra spices etc to taste, very good) with the last of the toms outside. I picked a lot of Chillies & made 2 batches of Sweet Chilli Sauce, a Golden Cayennes batch, & a  Reds batch. This keeps well, & we decant a little off at a time into smaller jars for the pantry.

Next on the list is cider, once we sort out some buckets etc. & of course the feijoas. I’m planting some fruit tree seeds now, to leave outside over winter. Some of our friends walnuts, which are later than ours & don’t get frosted. Thanks to their generosity we have a goodly supply of walnuts for the year. Also planted some Black Boy peach stones, & some Apple seeds, we have a tree the other side of the creek, must be a wild one, no-one in their right mind would plant a tree on such a severe bank. We risk life & limb to pick them. & any dropped, roll away & drop off the bank into the creek, or into the blackberries. They remind me of cooking apples we had in England when I was a child, Bramleys maybe? Anyway I’ve put in some seeds, & also taken some cuttings, as we think it’s a tree worth passing on.

chilli-sauce-green-tom-pickle.jpg

Sweet Chestnuts

There’s a definite nip in the evening air, prompting us to clean out the coalrange & get her going. I must admit I love this time of year, feeling snug indoors, dinner simmering on the range, & a long evening ahead to do all those things I never get around to in the Summer.

Gingko

Our Gingko tree is just turning yellow, with a bit of luck we’ll get a frost in a while & all its leaves will drop at once, leaving a golden ring about the trunk. I think this is the time to collect the leaves to make tincture, but haven’t made it myself.

Our Sweet Chestnuts are just starting to drop, another good reason to have a fire in the evenings. There are plenty of recipes for using chestnuts on the internet. If we’re very efficient we’ll boil some up, peel them, then freeze them to turn into shortbread, cakes & put into casseroles. The simplest way to eat them is roasted. Remember to cut a slit in each one, otherwise they tend to explode in a spectacular fashion. We put a dozen or so on an old coal shovel, onto the embers of the fire. Roast for about 20 mins, shake them around from time to time, they start to smell really good. Tip them out into a teatowel & leave for 5 mins to sweat, this makes peeling them a whole lot easier. You can sprinkle with salt or eat them just as they are.  They don’t keep long, unless you put them in a container in the fridge. Incidentally this is also a great way to get them to sprout, if you leave them buried in you fridge until spring, you’ll find some will have started to sprout. These can be happily potted up & will grow on.

Growing Today Article

We picked up a copy of the April ‘Growing Today,’ to check out the article that Vivienne Haldane has written about us. Funny seeing yourself in print, & seeing things in the photos we wished we’d tidied away! However we were really happy with the way Vivienne has written about us, the info is correct, & it feels like she understood where we were coming from.

Before her visit we sat down to clarify our thoughts, realising that our approach to our business is a blend, we want to provide natural remedies for everyday problems, that are effective & reasonably priced. Although we totally support organics in our own gardens, we realised that to keep our prices reasonable, we would need to be pragmatic, & source non-organic products as well. In the wider scheme of things we still feel that we can offer wholesome alternatives, with minimal preservatives etc. We are sourcing local Olive Oil, which is fantastic stuff, it still feels alive & full of goodies. We also want to keep our business small, so that we have time for all the other things we want to do, & to keep my M.E. at a manageable level or better! The only hiccup, & you’ll be aware of it, if you’ve found us, is that our website address was wrong, apologies for all that ‘google’ searching you may have had to do.
Nautilus

We’ve just had an idyllic couple of days at Mangakuri Beach, the weather was perfect, warm & calm, even I had a swim!! Among other highlights, (see Golden Hunting Wasp) I found a small Paper Nautilus shell, on the beach, so fragile & beautiful. It’s damaged on one side, but it’s still a treasure. They are hard to find whole, only the females make a shell, which is used as a brood chamber for the eggs & young. They normally live on the surface of the open sea, blowing into shore from time to time. The female looks like an octopus in her shell, but two of her arms are modified to form the shell. Apparently not much is known about the male, poor neglected creature!

Nautilus