Category: December


Well it’s been an amazing Spring so far, with beautiful rain at just the right times, spectacular thunder storms, & mostly warm nights. Our vege garden must be a month ahead of our usual production.

We are just starting to pick Zucchini, there are lots of tomatoes forming, the early spuds are ready to bandicoot a few off, we harvested the early garlic, just as we ran out of last years crop, & the Elephant Garlic, which is dotted all around the garden, is about to flower, the long stalks look very cool.

Herb garden, Potatoes & Elder Tree at back Tomatoes Lizzie's Bumpy Beans

The fat frog we had hoped would lay eggs in our pond, disappeared, so we have resorted to buying tadpoles. We bought 6 Bell Frog Taddies from the local petshop & 20 Whistling Tree Frog tadpoles from Trade Me. The Tree Frog tadpoles arrived safely from Nelson, by courier which was impressive. They are really tiny & very black. We have a plastic tank, which I filled with pond water & weeds a few weeks ago, so that by the time the tadpoles arrived it was a perfect environment for them, with plenty of weed & algae to eat. It’s on the deck where we can watch them, & I’ve taken the precaution of wrapping three sides with tin foil, so they don’t get too hot.  According to info I have gleaned so far, the tadpoles can take about 2 months to turn into froglets. I seem to remember from school biology that they are vegetarian until their legs appear & then become carnivorous. I must check it out, because I don’t want the Bell Frogs eating the tiny tadpoles, & I can give them raw mince or fishfood when the time is right. (I’ll get back with more on this later)

2 large Bell Frog Tadpoles & small Whistling Tree Frog tadpole about halfway up on left. Half Barrel Goldfish Pond

While I’m on the topic of things in water, we’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon, since we have been topping up our half-barrel with the water that we run through the copper still for cooling, there has been hardly any stringy green algae growing, which is great as it usually gets so thick the fish get tangled in it.

I picked the first of my beetroot babies today, to roast for a salad, they look very good, & I salvaged the young leaves to put into a green salad. We’ve finally forced ourselves to stop picking the Asparagus & already the ferns are over 1metre tall, this is their 3rd Spring. In contrast, the Asparagus seeds I sowed about 6 weeks ago are now tiny, tiny little ferns. I sowed one seed in each cell & had a great success rate for the Green variety, & the Purple ones are still germinating. These seeds came from Kings Seeds, really good value, if you don’t mind waiting a couple of years to harvest them.

Rhubarb & Asparagus Ferns Baby Asparagus Plants

Our new strawberry patch is cropping well & looking healthy, the Raspberries are a bit behind, because we transplanted them & cut them right back, but they will give us a good Autumn crop. The Rhubarb is huge, we’re going to have to get creative to use it up. The Globe Artichokes have got away on us, I must cut off the heads that are overblown to encourage new growth, we don’t eat them that often, but I love to have them in the garden.

Now is the time to take cuttings of Lemon Verbena, using the semi-hardwood stems, trim the leaves in half, & snip off the top, tender growth. Put them in a sandy mix, in a shady spot, where you’ll remember to water them. With luck, in a month or two you’ll have some young plants to pot up. I’ve been pruning a Variegated Elder by the workroom, which must have grown 2 metres this Spring, so I have used the prunings to turn into cuttings too.

We have had an interesting breakthrough for sinus problems. Geoff has had bad sinuses for 2 or 3 years now, off & on, but mostly on. He’s tried every supplement, herbal & homeopathic remedy he can think of, plus antibiotics & predisone, & an operation on one side, all to no avail. Through a series of conversations & lateral thinking, we came up with the idea that it could be a fungal problem. Research on Google confirmed that many sinus infections are in fact fungal in origin.

What we had to hand was the ointment we make for Athlete’s Foot, so Geoff started putting tiny dabs of that up his nose. Within a few days, most of the symptoms had abated, & he has been pretty much trouble-free since then, six weeks perhaps. We’ve tried the ointment on a couple of other people with similar success. We are planning to make a slightly modified version, which has coconut oil in it. In the meantime if you would like to be a Guinea Pig & try it out, we are happy to send you a small pot to try, if you are happy to cover postage, or we can add it to your order from our online shop for no charge.

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Christmas & Beyond

We have survived the Christmas season, relatively intact. We avoided shopping in crazy places, & had a great time at Habitat for Humanity, an Op Shop where we spent about $50 & got a load of awesome presents, just perfect for our family & no plastic crap.

The most exciting time was on Saturday 22nd when we were present at the birth of our newest Grandson. What a magic experience, & a timely reminder of birth & renewal. We gaze at this perfect little person & wonder who he is, & try to imagine this time next year when he’ll be all systems go.

Our New GrandsonNapier Beach

Being Grandparents is so much more than either Geoff or I expected, that visceral love for those little people, the revisiting of old stories & games & glimpses of our own childrens’ growing up time. It’s such a gift, & to have time to sit & just hang out together is great, the lack of rush & hurry & stress that parenting often includes.  We do notice that we don’t have the energy we once had, nor the tolerance for noise, luckily we have a choice to take time out, but those loving little cuddles, & funny conversations make it all worth while.

German Chamomile & Calendula FlowersPurple de Jesu ArtichokeDaisy Lawn

Our gardens are an explosion of plants, we’ve never had such rampant growth, the paths are impenetrable, & plants like Valerian officinalis have flowered over 2 metres tall. We have just started to hew our way through the paths, like explorers in a jungle, & bunched various herbs to dry in our garden caravan. This morning I fired up the Alembic Still & made Lemon Balm hydrosol, not sure what to use it for yet, will look it up later.

We’ve dug up all the garlic except the Elephant Garlic & planted some more Courgettes, Galangal & Lemon Grass in the spaces. Geoff & I spend an hour or so each day picking flowers into olive oil, mainly St. John’s Wort, but also Chamomile, Meadowsweet, Calendula & the first few flowers of Arnica & Mullein. These jars will sit in the sun for a month or so before we heat them up, filter & then store in the dark until we are ready to use them. It’s a good feeling to have those jars filling up, as we rely on the seasonal crops for the rest of the year. This process is called maceration.

We’ve Survived Another Christmas

 

 

mince-pies dscf0824 drying-lavender fresh-lavender-maceration verbascum-bombyciferum poppy-pods monarda-didyma hypericum-perforatum harvesting-stjohns-wort meadowsweet

(Photos above: top to bottom-Mince Pies, fresh Lavender, Dried Lavender, Lavender flowers in Oil, Verbascum olympicum flowers, Opium Poppy Pods, Bergamot- Monarda didyma, St John’s Wort flowers, Geoff picking St John’s Wort, Meadowsweet Flowers-Filipendula ulmaria )

It’s been a good Christmas, lots of family & friends, easy & delicious food, followed by some restful down-time. The only job we have to do, is harvesting flowers for our oils, which is a lovely job & hopefully will set us up for the rest of the year. Our most important crop is St. John’s Wort. which we use in a number of ointments & rubs, it’s slow to pick as only a few flowers open on each head, each day. We are trying to get as many open flowers as possible so we don’t pick flowering tops, which strips all the buds off as well. If we’re lucky & diligent we hope to make 10 bottles, which is about 40 litres of oil.

The Elder & Arnica are pretty much finished, & I’ve just cut off most of the Lavender flowers, some I have made into a fresh oil, using a double boiler. (I think the recipe is in the Eczema section) the rest of the flowers I’ve spread out to dry. We’ll use these later to make vinegar hair rinse & shampoo bars.

The vege garden has been a bit slow this year, spuds are growing well, but most other things are a bit behind. I think the cold nights we’ve been getting upsets them. Usually the weather settles in January, & as long as we have enough water, everything will shoot away. The herbs are growing happily meantime & the herb garden is full & lush, so much so that the paths are disappearing into the foliage.

bunium-flowers foxgloves foxgloves-taupo-road

Pre- Christmas we drove up to Matakana, north of Auckland, we kicked ourselves because we didn’t take any plant identification books with us, & we did spot a number of plants we didn’t know. We also saw some familiar but surprising ones. The Taupo Road was a mass of Foxgloves in parts, they looked glorious, our photos don’t really do them justice. We also saw a long row of Golden Elders in flower just north of Matamata, & further north still masses of wild (& noxious) Honeysuckles in full flower in the hedgerows, along with small pink roses.

Out towards Buckletons Beach we found huge drifts of Earthnut, Bunium bulbocastanum. These filled some paddocks with their white, umbel flowers, so not the right time to harvest the tubers. Apparently the Pukekos love them in the spring & dig up the nuts. How they got there is a mystery, perhaps when we had our plant nursery, many years ago, someone bought a plant from us, although the plants we have don’t spread very far. According to Wikipedia the seeds are called Black Cumin & used as a spice, didn’t know that before. On our way back home we stopped at Wright’s water Gardens in Putamahoe, near Pukekohe, sadly we didn’t have time to walk around but did buy a couple of Papyrus plants & had a good look in their nursery, which has many waterlilies & Lotus plants. We’ll definitely plan time for the visit next time we head north.

Springtime

Well it’s been some weeks since I’ve written here. In that time a lot has happened, we’ve moved on from having a list of jobs, too long to contemplate, to feeling like we’re over half way. Spring is both a wondrous time &  alarming for gardeners. The jobs we glanced at fondly in the colder months, thinking ‘aah we have ages to get round to doing that’ suddenly turn into a number of expletives & panic as we realise the garden is burgeoning, weeds & all at a great speed.

dscf0694 dscf0693 herb-garden deck

So what have we achieved…well we have about 20 ewes & 20 lambs all looking plump & healthy. Two lambs are off to the butchers next week to provide us & our neighbour with delicious christmas meat. Geoff & same neighbour cut down about 10 of our woodlot gums, these are now drying out, some are split & in the shed, the rest we’ll split with a log splitter in the New Year. So that’s next winter’s wood supply taken care of.

We’ve now got all our Summer veges planted, including spuds, tomatoes, eggplants, salad supplies, pumpkins, cucumbers, chillies, etc etc. The first of the early Summer herbs are getting processed, so lines of bottles filled with olive oil & flowers are appearing in the gardens. Elder, Arnica & Calendula, next will be St John’s Wort, Meadowsweet & Lavender.

arnica calendula-flowers dscf0744

Most of the gardens around the house are pretty tidy & the plants are growing happily, lots of roses at the moment. The orchard is looking lush & we can see plenty of young fruit on the trees. We’ve been propagating a number of herb plants & selling them on Trade Me. This is very satisfying & we are happy to be keeping some of the more obscure plants in supply.

On the ‘to do’ list we have blackberries, Geoff is going to hire a digger & deal to them in the New Year. Yay!! Thistles are more hands on, alas. We have the paths to the house to concrete, to keep us out of the mud next winter, we’ve dug quite a bit up & laid brick edges, but got no further, so for now we walk around the paths. The pizza oven needs some TLC maybe a lime wash or another coat of clay. It looks like we didn’t put enough sand in the first layer to bind it together.We also have an enormous willow to deal to. It has dropped two huge branches right where we normally camp in the summer, & one we just can’t budge, it hangs by what look like mere threads & is very unsafe.

pathway-start

We are aiming for a stress free Christmas, with simple gifts, if any & simple food, nothing complicated, fingers crossed it might even happen!

Our blog statistics for the year

Ever since we have been keeping the blog, we have been fascinated by the statistics page we can access. I thought it would be fun to share some of the mind boggling information with you.

This year to date we have had 16,790 visits to date, of those 1,385 of you hardy souls stayed on to read from between half an hour to over one hour. How amazing that is.

Intrigued to know what it is you are reading about I looked back over the topics searched for, after looking for Millstream gardens, the other hot topics are Gisborne Cockroaches, splinter remedies, Hedgehogs, frogs, Sweet Woodruff, Tiger worms, henna for the hair & how to pickle green walnuts. Some of the more obscure searches included: ammonia scented snow, plants that smell like rotting fish, weird people doing weird things (is that us?), poultice for creaky kneecaps, red worms in toilet bowl, flesh eating bacteria in Lake Ainsworth (found after we’d been swimming there), harvesting rat tailed maggots, holes on verges, ‘I see people picking nuts up under a tree’, a picture of a slimy frog & the rather broad ranging topic ‘anything’.

Some of these searches that led to our website, have us mystified that a link was found. Some of the more serious searches we are happy to think that we may have provided some helpful information. For December we have had visits from53 different countries including: Romania, Moldavia, Ukraine, Mexico, Malaysia, Finland, Turkey, China, Colombia, Switzerland, Italy, Canada, USA, India, Guatemala, South Korea & Japan. Isn’t the Internet an amazing place? Is it a place? Have a great Christmas, & we’ll catch up in the New Year.

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Our soft fruit house has worked like a charm, last year we lost all our red currants, this year we are finding recipes, giving them away & planning to freeze some too. A friend of ours raved about Summer Pudding, we’d always thought it looked complicated, & a bit bready, but no! it’s delicious. see recipe section for a simple recipe. Our Border Terrier, Pip has a soft spot for fruit, while we were picking the currants, she was hovering close by, ready to pounce on any fruit that got dropped. It’s an odd trait, she loves all fruit, if we eat an apple, she’s there looking hopeful, but I would have thought the Redcurrants too sour.

It’s the time of year when Poplar fluff drifts or streams through the sky here. There are a number of ancient Poplars in the district, so it doesn’t matter which way the wind blows the white fluff appears. The worst thing is that it sticks to every cobweb & highlights our lack of domesticity! Worse still we spotted the first Cabbage White Butterflies in the garden yesterday, so we’re going to put up bird netting over the brassica bed to see if that foils them. The other white thing in the air, is pollen from the Sweet Chestnuts, the trees look stunning, but smell a little odd. Please note if you are planning to plant Sweet Chestnuts at your place, the entrance driveway is not the optimum choice. When the prickly seed cases drop they can be very anti-social, of course the rest of the year they are lovely, & do all that ‘under the shade of’ thing.

The spuds are growing fast, & the Agria are in flower, we did a spot of bandicooting, but didn’t find any spuds to eat yet. We are eating Broccoli just about every night, which is a treat. The Melon plants are looking promising, it’ll be a miracle if we get some fruit, we seem to be jinxed in the melon department, & I think we got a bit carried away with sheep poos in the new Raspberry bed, the plants are looking decidedly off colour, which is unusual in such vigorous plants, I’m hoping they will recover for an Autumn harvest.

In the flower borders, the Daylilies are looking fantastic, the roses are still blooming, but the most striking plant at the moment is a Verbascum olympicum, which has been a mass of flowers for ages now.

As I write this there is a thunder storm right overhead, hopefully bringing some much needed rain. The pair of idiot dogs are running around barking their heads off, why they can’t cower under the table I don’t know.

rifkin-chases-the-thunder.jpg

Well it’s been an eventful week for me, having had surgery & moving through the initial stages of recovery. I won’t go into detail here, but for any women looking to undergo surgery I’ll put in some info in the  ‘Health Issues’ category, it’ll be work in progress for a while.

Meantime although I was only in hospital a few days, the garden seems to have transformed. The spuds are huge, squash are bursting forth, the Arnica is in it’s full flush of flowering & The St. John’s Wort & Meadowsweet are not far away. The flower beds are between flowers mostly, lots of things to cut back & lots more not quite ready yet.

Our onions are looking a bit runty, I think where we planted them got a bit neglected with watering at a crucial stage,& this hot dry Spring has been hard on them. We may try a second crop & see what happens. The Elephant Garlic is flowering, & despite all advice to the contrary, we leave the flowers on, they are just magical. The Brassicas are leaping ahead & we have so much brocolli, luckily it’s one of the things I’ve been craving this week.

Greenfinches are in the garden & seem to be nesting, it’s the first time we’ve had them here. The cheeky Thrushes have taken to coming in the house after crumbs, ( we already had to move the cats biscuits out of the porch, as he got scolded for being in there, & then they ate his food!) the Swallows have finished their nest building by the light fitting & obviously are sitting on eggs. The birds are taking over!

Alas my plans to increase the frog population have been in vain, so far we have 6 frogs watching hundreds of mosquito larvae, wriggling around in the pond, can our nerve hold or will we just put the goldfish back?

Rain would be most welcome, the lovely Hawkes Bay weather is becoming just a little too predictable. The other sort of flow we are struggling with is the $$$ sort, compounded by a hefty bill when the car broke down! so I’d like to put a plug in for our online shop, connected to this blog, we might have just the thing for Auntie Vera & Cousin Tim, or even some practical 1st Aid ointments for your camping holidays.

Meanwhile I get to sit around a bit more & watch the wildlife & come up with more schemes & projects for when I’m better.

Christmas Pending

Well, Christmas is nearly upon us, & we are feeling relatively sane…I did say relatively! We went into the Farmer’s Market this morning to stock up on fruit & vege for the next few days. We even saw Peta Mathias there, & of course she looked right at home. We usually make a selection of salads the day before Xmas, & these store in the fridge for 2 or 3 days & provide easy bases for meals. One of my favourites is Roast Vege Salad, I’ll put the recipe for this in the recipe section.

Our Feijoas are in full flower, & they look lovely. The petals are thick & taste of feijoas. There are a few Blackbirds who spend time pecking at the flowers, I’m not sure if they eat them or bugs. We have 2 varieties, Mammoth & Triumph, both are self pollinating & produce large & luscious fruit. Last year with the Autumn drought they didn’t do well, when they fell off the trees they were already over-ripe, with that slight acetone flavour, not good! So far the rainfall has been just right.

Feijoa Flowers

We are trying to grow a Tamarillo, in the canopy under our native trees. It has survived the Winter, & is now producing large numbers of Potato-like flowers, which smell delicious.