Category: February


We are feeling very pleased with ourselves! Yesterday we planted out seedlings of Broccoli & Italian Broccoli, Cabbage, Fennel & Leeks. In a clever bit of planning, & in tune with a correct forecast,(unusual I know) we ordered some bundles of seedlings from Awapuni Nurseries, & the weather conditions are perfect for planting, being cool & damp.

We have been experimenting with various ways to keep the Cabbage Whites off of the Brassicas, this year we have made a big, temporary frame, using short posts & twine, & have covered it over with bird netting. This is not 100% butterfly proof, but close to it, so we will use Derris Dust only if we need to. All the cabbage family are gross feeders, that doesn’t mean that they eat disgusting things, rather that they like a goodly amount of compost. We walk on the plot too, to firm the soil so that their roots stay firmly anchored. Later on we’ll scatter some wood ash around them.

This is early in the year for us to get winter veges planted, but after having a bumper early spud crop, the main crop succumbed to psyllid  or some other nasty & showed no sign of producing any potatoes at all, so we pulled them out. Next year we’ll grow just early spuds & have a break from main crop, hopefully that will break the cycle. The plus side is that we had a lovely clear space waiting to be filled.

We have a number of wooden frames around the place, the one we filled with compost & grew beetroot in, has been a great success, the old strawberry frame has Florence Fennel seedlings in it, covered with netting because the birds were pulling them out. I’ll sow some rows of carrot seeds in here to. According to our Moon calender, we are spot on for leafy plants, but will need to hold off on root crops until the 17th & 18th Feb.

We’ve planted 2 bundles of Leeks, probably about 100 plants, they are one of our favourite Winter vege, & we start eating them when they are quite small otherwise at the end of Winter they go to seed & are tough to eat.

Beans, Yams & Brassica cage Eggplants,  Calendula, Mullein & mad Scallopini

We are still harvesting vast amounts of scallopini, they seem to be much more prolific than Zucchini, having several stems that grow in different directions, the Bumpy Beans have slowed down & we have put up another frame & sown more seeds, so hope to continue picking for an extended time. The Melon plants grew in a rush then died, but have left us with maybe 20 small, ripe fruit which are delicious. We got seeds of a small fruiting variety that ripens quickly,called ‘Venice’ (King’s Seeds) & we’re delighted with the results.

We harvested a big basket of tomatoes which we have cooked up to make a basic tomato brew, which we use in casseroles & on Pizzas. The recipe we use came from Annabelle Langbeins book, ‘The Free Range Cook’ its particularly good, because the tomatoes get roasted in the oven with onion, garlic, red pepper, herbs, olive oil, tomato paste & brown sugar, which gives the brew a lovely rich, balanced flavour. www.annabellangbein.com/recipes/harvest-tomato-sauce/292 Once cooked they get whizzed up, then we freeze them in plastic cups. Once frozen they can be tipped out & stored in plastic bags. This batch we used Basil instead of Rosemary, the next lot we thought we’d add Indian curry spices to, ready to add to any curry we make.

Tomato Crop Frozen Tomato Sauce Young Tui

The bird in the above photo is a young Tui that has been living in our orchard for the past few weeks. It looks quite a lot larger than an adult Tui, being scruffy & largely fluff! This young bird is quite tame & lets us get close to it, also we can hear some odd noises from the orchard & think perhaps it is practising it’s songs. It feels very special to have such a visitor, & to know that the Tuis are obviously breeding somewhere close by.

When all the trees are in leaf & the wind blows, it feels & sounds a bit like being in a green sea, the trees sway like seaweed in the currents & our deck feels like the prow of a ship.

Wind Blown

Fresh Colour

Our creative juices have been flowing over the last few days. It all started with our trip to Northland & the beautiful & original toilets in Kawakawa. Then I developed a passion for turquoise & started buying old cushions & fabric, replacing our much used, but rather dull cushion covers we got in Bali years ago. I cheated a bit by buying secondhand pillow cases as a starting point.

Then…I found an inspiring, but old book in the op shop, called ‘Painted Country’ by Tricia Guild. Geoff & I pored over the sumptuous pictures & old furniture, wondering how to get that look. Well we have old furniture but it didn’t look very classy. We had an ‘aha!’ moment, when we realised that we could just get some test pots & paint here & there, not needing to match everything up tidily, but just play.

A trip to Resene’s saw us come home with numerous little pots, & the missing ingredient: Crackle Glaze.

Turquoise over yellow crackle glaze Upcycled cupboard with sprigs of Virginia Creeper Berries

Our latest obsession! How much can we use crackle glaze without it being too much? We had two very practical, but not very decorative cupboards, the back of our computer set up, some small draws & the door of the toilet, now all crackled with various degrees of success, but definitely improved. We’ve also painted the doors out onto the deck four shades of blue & turquoise, which match the sheets we’ve hung up as shade sails. It all feels cool & fresh, & the blues now pull out other blue objects in the house. Suddenly Geoff’s T shirt enhances the colour scheme.  We’ve probably spent $50 max & have a whole new feel to the living room & deck. Brilliant!

Crackle glaze, Komaru Blue over Hot Chilli Tradascantia house plant set off by the new colours

Years ago we used to read a book to the kids, called “The Big Orange Splot’ the repeating theme being ‘my house is me & I am it, it looks like all my dreams.” I’ll second that!

Introducing Didgit

The conversation started like this:

Saturday;
Me– ‘I’ve found some cute Beardie puppies on Trade Me’

Sunday;
Geoff– ‘I was thinking that when Rif goes, it would be good to be dog-free for a bit’
Me– ‘That sounds like a good idea, I hate the idea of training a dog not to go near the road’

Monday morning;
Me– ‘I was thinking, if we got a puppy while we still have Rif, it’d be a lot easier to train, because it would learn from her, & she knows not to go down the drive… shall we have a look at the TM photos’
Geoff– ‘Perhaps I should ring & see which ones they have left?’
Geoff– ‘Ok, so whereabouts in Taupo are you? (writing hurriedly) Ok, we’ll see you tomorrow’

Smithfield Beardie Cross

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And so, we have a new addition to our family, a Smithfield Beardie, called ‘Didgit’, who, in the few days we’ve had her, has charmed & delighted us. Rif is not overly impressed to have a small bundle of energy barking in her face & biting her tail when she’s not looking, but she is getting used to it.

Our first Beardie, Oscar, came from the pound, & we discovered he was a Smithfield, it’s kind of the doggy equivalent to a Manx Cat, & is a recessive gene, Didgit has a long tail, but if we bred her with a short tail, some of her pups would probably have short tails.   Beardies have great natures, gentle but smart, & easily learn things. Already at 8 weeks, Didgit is pretty much house trained, & she has watched Rif play soccer & already is keen to follow suit. She’s so small at the moment that she gets bowled over by the ball, but it won’t be long before she has the hang of it.

To make life easier, we’ve set up a little run in the living room, where we can pop her to have a sleep, or give us time out. Giles was looking up on Google about puppy care, & this system is called ‘crating.’ It certainly takes the stress out of having a new pup

Winter vegetables

We’ve had a productive day getting in vege plants for the winter. We ordered some bundles of plants from Awapuni, who send them out, wrapped in newspaper. Great value & always reliable plants. The important thing to do, if you can’t plant straight away, is to open up the bundles & put the plants in a tray or pots of compost until you are ready to plant them, so the leaves don’t rot. Try really hard not to stress the plants by letting them get dry, otherwise they will tend to bolt, (go to flower)

We are trying to keep our garden small & intensive, so whenever we want to plant things we have to find spaces, this system is very efficient & doesn’t leave areas of bare earth. We pulled up the oldest of our zucchini plants which were getting passed it, & dug horse  manure in, this patch about 1.5m X 1. now has about 150 leeks in it. We dug up some of our potatoes, that had died back, added sheep poos  & planted 2 sorts of broccoli,(Italian & sprouting) & kale there . We’ve dug trenches in the lettuce seed bed & planted celery there, & finally put coloured silver beet in a space by the back door, for easy picking.

There are seedlings coming up that I planted last week, beetroot, carrots, late fennel, chinese cabbage, corn salad, lettuce mesclun & some replacement zucchini.  Finally the tomatoes are cropping, but slowly, these cold nights slow them down. We recorded a low of 3 degrees C last night, that’s not great. There are tiny eggplants & green chillies forming, but again, very slowly.

The raspberries are producing well now, the birds eat the earlier crop but we always get the later one, just enough for breakfast every day.  We have the garlic & onions dried & stashed in our garden caravan, & now the first of the spuds are in there too. I’ve been picking the sweet marjoram flower heads when they are still green & in little balls, & laying them on trays to dry, when they are quite dry I’ll rub them through a sieve & store in a jar for Winter cooking.

My cousin Jon, has spent the last few days here with his digger, what a wonderful thing!! He has cleared enormous amounts of blackberry, which has been encroaching year by year. We  also have a proper driveway that won’t go under water for half the winter, the mailman & courier will be very happy about that, so will everyone else that braves the pond to get to our place. We had a bit of excitement when Jon & digger tried to cross the creek & nearly disappeared, but some cunning manoeuvres  by Jon managed to lever the digger out, luckily I was on hand to record the excitement.

Getting ready for Winter

A couple of weeks ago we tackled the gum trees that had been cut down a few months ago. We were lucky to borrow a log splitter, which was marvellous, even I could split big logs, & now that they are drier they are very fibrous to separate. We had our two sons help out, which was great as it was very physical work. Now we have our wood sheds full up, for the first time ever, I’m one happy squirrel.

Looking forward to seeing what a difference having the house insulated top & bottom will make, with luck we should have a warm & cosy winter.  The stumps are already growing new sprouts, which in a few years will become firewood too. This variety of coppicing gum is called Eucalyptus saligna. It needs planting after the frosts, but once they get established they grow fast.

We burnt all the branches in a heap, with the thick ends sticking out, so that we can cut them up to burn in the coalrange. Waste not want not!!

new-sprouts-coppicing-1 finished-product-1 bonfire-salvaging-branches-for-house-fire-1 splitter-in-action-1 menfolk-in-action-1 logs-waiting-to-be-split-1

Cuttings & Seed Sowing

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I’ve just spent a fragrant & productive half hour, taking cuttings of Lemon Verbena. We’ve tried striking them at different times of the year, & found that now is the best. The branches are semi-hardwood, whippy & a bit green, as long as we remember to water them every day or two we should have a good success rate.  We don’t have any fancy equipment, a tray of sandy potting mix, semi-shade & a water supply.  I cut the stems into short lengths, with 3 or 4 sets of leaves, strip off the bottom leaves & cut the top ones in half, so they don’t dry out too fast. I save all the leaves that get cut off to dry for teas.

Have sown a few lots of root vegetable seeds in the dug over patch, where the onions came out: Carrots, Bull’s Blood Beetroot, Parsnips, Turnips, Kohlrabi & Florence Fennel.Ironically it was too hot to sow seeds when the time was right by the moon calender, so that’s another plan dashed, perhaps next time round. The Turnips are already up.

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Also put in a couple of new plantings of Zucchini to fill the gap when the existing ones retire. We had a big tidy up in the soft fruits house, which was getting over run with rampant Raspberries, put in some sturdier & taller posts to tie the up to. Quite an improvement, we can get down the paths!!

The Fig we put in a large pot in there has 17 fruit on it, & the Raspberries are getting a good flush of late fruit. We managed to kill the Blueberry we planted in the garden, by not watering it enough, must be the 3rd or 4th one, think we’ll give up on that. The Rhubarb is flourishing, I’m planning to cut a whole lot, blanch & freeze it,  for the winter. Plums were pretty poor this year, but there are masses of pears coming on & a good lot of apples too, so hopefully we shall get to make cider again, missed out last year to the birds.

The vege garden is going well, lots of  tomatoes, eggplants, capsicums, cucumbers & zucchini. Have included a photo of a clump of Giant Puffballs I found last weekend, down by the creek, I picked one small one to eat & left the rest to do their thing. The red flowers are Tigridia pavonia, which kind of classify as a herb the bulbs can be roasted & eaten, tasting like sweet potatoes, & I think they have medicinal uses too, but in our garden we simply admire them.

Photos below L-R Tigridia pavonia, Eggplants, mixed Lettuce, Giant Puffballs

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Hot peppers are setting fruit now, so it will be exciting to see just what we’ve got. Lettuces are going well under shadecloth, it’s just too hot for them out in the sun. We’re harvesting early spuds, some of our plants look a bit ragged we think it’s just the heat, we’re going to trim some back & give them a good drink , see if that helps, they still have tiny potatoes forming on the stalks.

The frogs who live in the bath are looking quite portly & sometimes serenade us at night, I’m very happy to have them around. This morning there were 5 sitting on the edges & watching the Cabbage White Butterflies avidly, I must sit out there for a while & see if they ever catch any. The bath pond is very simple, we just dug an old bath into the ground a little to stabilise it. We planted a pot with Equisetum in it, some oxygen weed, & a couple of small waterlilies, added a few fish & let nature take it’s course. The water stays pretty clear & the frogs arrived by themselves. Sometimes we see small dragonflies, but the one in the photo is made of metal.

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This summer is all confused, hot, cold, wet, dry, misty, cloudy & that’s just yesterday!! It’s been challenging for those vegetables that prefer a good hot summer, peppers, eggplants even the tomatoes are dragging their feet, & we’ve lost a few to the wet conditions. Also after a week of cool, rainy conditions, when the sun comes out at full strength, those plants that have made a lot of lush, leafy growth suffer from heat stroke. The rhubarb & zucchini etc looked very poorly for a while there.Always a challenge, each season brings it’s own unique qualities & it’s up to us to make the most of what we get. So on the plus side we’ve got fantastic carrots, the raspberries & wild blackberries are cropping well. We’ve put shadecloth over some of the salad patch,  & the lettuces & florence fennel are looking good.The orchard reflects the same issues, trees have grown like topsy, laden with  fruit, some of these fast growing  branches have been breaking off, leaving the trees looking like a tornado has been through. The apples have been afflicted with black spot & are looking decidedly ragged.It’s good having the sheep  come & go through the orchard, they clean up the windfalls, bird pecked fruit & damaged or thinned fruit we pick off. Talking of sheep, we had our neighbour, Kingi come over & crutch them all the other day. Several were daggy, & we were worried they would get fly strike, only one had a small patch. This humid, warm weather is perfect for the flies. We drenched the flock too, with a mix of cider vinegar, wormwood & garlic. We’ll leave them to it now, as it’s getting near time for our new Suffolk ram to do his stuff, (hopefully.) He looks well equipped in the ram tupping department!! No photo included!!Two weeks ago we were up in Hamilton, & took time out to visit the Botanic Gardens. If you’re ever up that way set aside a couple of hours to explore. We  were amazed by the Vegetable Gardens, & very jealous. We also checked out the Herb Gardens, Victorian Gardens, Maori Gardens & an exhibition of brilliant Dahlias.

Hamilton Vege Garden Feb 2010

Crop-wise we’re picking plums galore, & putting lots into the freezer to turn into jam, sauces etc later on. We have started a batch of Damson & Omega Plum Gin, as I have fond memories of Sloe Gin & Bitter Lemon in England, it’s smelling pretty good so far. The Hops are flowering now, I’ve picked a few to dry & make a tincture with, this is reputed to be a good remedy for Hot Flushes & to help one sleep, sounds perfect for me. We’ve picked a few kilos of  Blackberries, there are lots more coming on, these are in the freezer too, & will get turned into Blackberry & Elderberry Rob, pies & jam. The whiite flesh peaches are plumping up, & nicely coloured, but I think they’re a week or two away from being ripe. I hope the birds leave them alone.

Lushness After The Rain

Well for once I’m not complaining about lack of rain in the Summer. We’ve had over 8 inches, 200ml in the last week or so. Amazingly the creek has hardly come up during these deluges, the water is just soaking straight into the thirsty ground. On the whole the gardens are happy with this, there are a few casualties some of the Salvias have rotted, any roses with flowers on have mouldered & the mildewed petals have landed on leaves & spread mould, so they are looking pretty sad. Some of the plums have split, but our peaches are still a way off being ripe so I think will be OK. The rhubarb & silverbeet are very happy, & we sowed seeds of leeks, red onions, turnips, red cabbage, florence fennel,spinach, carrots, & other root vege, 2 weeks ago, these are all up & looking good.

The tomatoes, peppers & eggplants are a bit sulky, & there are just a few toms ripening, & not a great amount of fruit set. Swings & roundabouts, I guess we can’t have it all ways. We bought a bundle of leek seedlings last week & these have shot away. Yesterday we got into the vege garden for a couple of hours & weeded out the worst of the new weed seedlings that are just starting to spring up, plus clearing away unhealthy foliage to minimise the chances of mildew.Another good side to the rain was that we have had our roof painted, & despite leaving the down pipes disconnected for several showers, when we saved the first lot of rain in our drinking water tank, it was very foamy. Much to our alarm the kettle would overflow with froth when we tried to boil it, & even a glass of water looked like suds. Apparently there is a foaming agent in the paint, which obviously takes quite a bit of rinsing to get rid of. We used  other water for a bit, & reconnected the tanks after some heavy rain, so now we’re back to sweet rainwater again. Easy to take these things for granted.

Weather, Winds, Winter

Amazing how much we think about the weather at this time of year. It’s been really hot, we’ve had winds, we’ve had a tiny amount of mizzle, the garden hangs it’s head & waits. We’re lucky to have access to the creek as a water supply, but we don’t like to irrigate too often. It’s stressful for the plants & us to get through these dry spells.

Despite the dry, some plants are thriving, the tomatoes are just starting to crop, & we have  a moist spot (a euphemistic term for the run off from the septic tank!) where pumpkins, scallopini & melons are going for it. In the orchard it’s a race between us, the birds & fruit ripening, the birds are eating fruit that is not by any means ‘tree ripened.’ We are most indignant, our grape crop which looked so promising has nearly all gone. we’ve started tying CDs up, this seems to be helping, but it’s much earlier than we expected to be attacked.

I’d like to plant some seeds of root crops for the Winter, I think the first planting got fried, so we’re going to make some shade cloth shelters for those areas & see if that helps. The Golden Seal flowered & produced a number of fruits, like raspberries, & we’ve planted these in a tray to over winter.

In the borders there are Delphiniums & Phlox, Pineapple lilies, Moonflowers, Cannas & Tiger Lilies. For the first few years we had the gardens, everything would fizzle out by Christmas, so it’s satisfying to have some flowers around. The Salvias are next to flower & if we’re very lucky we’ll see some Tree Dahlia blooms before the first frost.

We spent some happy hours clearing some of our pond. we planted a Dogwood, Cornus sanguisorba we think, some years ago, & it had suckered everywhere, & blocked most of our view of the water. On top of that a mix of Caltha & Iris pseudacorus had taken over a large amount of the waterway.We took away 2 trailers of debris, & probably have as much again to clear. The Caltha is very satisfying as it floats in a big mat, Geoff braves the mud & potential leeches & hacks off big hunks, which he tows to shore. As a result of this the Gunnera are looking fantastic, they tower over our heads, & the flowering spikes look very intriguing. We’ve taken to wandering down the drive, to sit & watch the fish & frogs & enjoy the tranquility. Easy to forget that part of gardens in the hurley burley of weeds, picking, watering etc etc.

Tree Onions & Shallots

I spent part of today sorting out the onions. I know that doesn’t sound very exciting, but it’s all part of squirreling away for Winter. You may remember that we harvested our onions etc in late January. Since then they have been drying off in our garden caravan. Today I went through, cleaning off old stems & trimming off the roots. We have Red Onions & Pukekohe Long Keepers, I plaited the smaller Long Keepers, & cut the stems off the large ones, storing them in an onion bag. These will keep the longest, funnily enough, although there were a few that had split into 2 or 3 bulbs & I put these in the ‘eat sooner’ pile, ( any bull necked onions would go here too, these are the ones with fat stalks, usually formed because they’ve been planted too deeply). The Red Onions start to sprout after a month or two so they are best eaten first, & used in pickles & curries etc.

We’ve also grown Tree Onions & Shallots, these just needed a clean, & storing, I put aside a tray of Spring planting stock, saving the biggest Shallots & the smallest Tree Onions. I haven’t saved these before so I hope that’s going to work. We’ve got ordinary Garlic & Elephant Garlic, we were a week or so late harvesting them, so the stalks of the plain garlic weren’t so well attached for plaiting. I trimmed the roots off, & any loose leaves. I also put aside the best garlic bulbs to grow, & the middle sized Elephant Garlic, plus the bulblets, which will grow into round bulbs next year, ideal for cooking with.

We saved all our poppy pods this year, as I read somewhere that the seeds are perfectly OK to use in cooking, they are so prolific.

The other reason for tidying up the caravan is that our honey extractor lives in there, & it’s time to extract. We went out to check progress, our one hive has 3 full supers of capped honey ready for us, so I’ll take some photos of the process to put in the next diary entry.