Category: January


The tail end of January already!

I can’t believe that we’re nearly at the end of January already, and as Geoff so helpfully points out, that’s nearly a twelfth of the year gone! Today as I write this, it is stormy, cold & windy, our maximum/minimum thermometer on the deck records a high of 36 C & a low of 6C for the last week, that’s a huge range of 30C difference, no wonder we don’t know whether we’re in Summer or Autumn. ( Looking back I see we had the same thing in 2011, & also had 100ml of rain, so there’s a chance we might get a good soaking)

Haymaking all around

Over the last couple of weeks, there has been a lot of activity all around us, as farmers cut, turn & bale hay, it seems to have been a bumper year, & the view from our window changes with each process. It’s lovely to be so connected to the seasonal cycles & to live among other people working the land, with the same awareness. There is a high number of conversations about rain at this time of year, & unlike many folk, we are all grateful for any drops that arrive, & carefully watch the forecasts to see if & when any more is coming, although what’s predicted is rarely what we get.

Luckily the gardens know where they’re at,despite the high & low temps & are doing exactly what they should be. Our Arnica plants are producing masses of flowers every day, which we are harvesting & putting into bottles of oil, ready to be turned into ointments later on. It seems most likely that we have a hybrid variety, a cross between A. montana & A. chamissonis, because we grew both plants in the same area. The variety we have is ideally suited to our conditions, handling both the cold Winters & hot Summers.We’ve finished picking Mullein flowers now, so we can leave the plants to look stately, the oil is used as an antispasmodic, for sore muscles, also a few drops can ease earache & it’s also used to treat eczema in the ear. The St John’s Wort, Chamomile & Meadowsweet are all harvested & either in jars of oil, or already processed & stored in the dark for use over the year. We have an ongoing supply of orange Calendula flowers, which we pick regularly & put in oil, it’s probably our most versatile & useful remedy.

Fragrant Lily  Hidden places at Millstream january 2014 027

We are mostly eating out of the garden now, loads of scallopini & zucchini, also Liz’s Bumpy Beans which crop enthusiastically & are so delicious we can eat them at every meal. We picked a Rock Melon yesterday, which was ripe & delicious, a huge achievement for us, as we hardly ever can grow Melons. We have tomatoes now & my beetroot are full grown, sweet & crisp. We’ve harvested all the garlic & onions now & they are drying in our garden caravan, along with Lavender flowers & some other herbs for the Winter.

In the rampant part of the garden, behind the Melons & Scallopini, we have a big tangle of pumpkins and gourds, it’s impenetrable, so we shan’t discover what has grown there until the frost comes.

Large Bell Froglet & small Whistling Tree Frog Set Free Young Bell Frogs

Our Tadpoles have all grown up & left home. I miss them. We let them loose as soon as they had four legs, just in case they got out & got dehydrated on the deck. They have disappeared into the pond without a trace, but we are optimistic that next Spring we shall hear the Whistling Tree Frogs in our garden, meantime Geoff spotted 6 adolescent frogs sitting on the edge of the bath/pond in the herb garden, so they obviously survived the goldfish & grew without any help from us.

Another New Year

Well, already 2014 is rolling out in front of us. We have survived the Christmas celebrations intact. A little weary & disorientated, but with a feeling of wellbeing & affection for our family & close friends. Christmas can be  a catalyst for  strife & stress break outs, so it’s always good to get through it without either.

A Simple Christmas Collage Boxes Bumper year for Grapes

Festivities are started  with the Carol Service at the Pukehou Christ Church. It’s a beautiful, old, wooden church, that has been deconsecrated. It still carries the resonance of years of worship & has a serene atmosphere…mostly. The Carol Service is a wonderful template of our community, some sober members, some musical, some anarchists who sit when told to stand & vice versa, some crazy types & many others. For a couple of hours we get together & sing, for some it’s about the message of Christmas, for others it’s a celebration of community, & a chance to get in touch with one’s inner spirituality, whatever shape that may be.

The highlights for me, this year were the musical jam, that Pukehou School provided, of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ & ‘All you need is Love’ complete with whistles, bells & a trombone!  At the other end of the spectrum, I just love singing ‘Silent Night’ with the candles burning, pure magic.

This year, as ever, we tried to keep things simple, I think we’ve almost got it. We only gave presents to the youngest family members, Geoff & I shopped at the Playcentre Shop, Apple Activities & the Op Shops. We cooked a leg of lamb in the barbeque & everyone brought salads &/or desserts. Best of all these lasted for Boxing Day too, so we had hardly any work to do, apart from dishes.

My sister came up with a new version of our collages. She & her daughter had collected a pile of shoe boxes, each had info about the elements, & some things to represent them, feathers, shells, rocks etc. We each chose one we liked & collaged the outsides, & insides if inspired. Then we wrote little messages, key words, or just added images & posted them in each other’s  boxes. It’s a lovely gift, to receive positive feedback from those you love. We often forget to say those things. I’m keeping my box, & plan to add other treasures to it over the year.  One of the things I enjoyed about making the boxes, was that everyone got involved & sat quietly for an hour or two. It seemed like the perfect foil  to all the rush & hype.

In amongst numerous people coming & going, Geoff & I would find ourselves out in the herb garden, picking flowers for oils, or gathering salad ingredients together, & feeling so blessed that we live here, do what we do & have close family & friends to share  with.  What more could we want?

Rabbit's Tail Grass Miranda

 We hope that your life is as blessed, & that this New Year will be kind & generous to you. That you will be able to ride out any storms that come & be able to enjoy the calm spells. Let’s look after our Mother Earth & ensure that we can pass on a rich heritage of nature  in it’s many guises, to our Children & Grandchildren & so on, & show them the many treasures we have, & inspire them to care for them also.

We’ve just come back from a night in Wellington. I think I am getting less tolerant of city life as I get older.

I’ve been reading a book called ‘The Introvert Advantage,’ by Marti Olsen Laney. Among many things I have learned that are perfectly normal for me as an introvert, is the concept of sensory overload.  Which explains why I can’t think straight with loud music playing, why I go to a party & wish I was at home again, why I don’t like answering the phone & why I get exhausted in a city.

View from Seventh Floor015Gargoyle

The noise, the people, the visual stimulation is all too much. So after 24 hours I was almost comatose with exhaustion! We got home about 7 pm & sat on the deck eating scrambled eggs, apart from the bird song it was blissfully still & quiet, that lovely, soft, golden evening light,& a pair of young Fantails practising their acrobatics, what more could an introvert want? or even a moderate extrovert like Geoff?

While we sat, we watched the Paradise Ducks in the neighbouring paddock, & snuck over to take some photos. I’ve put these up in ‘the Good, the Bad & the Ugly’ category, with some info about them.

A couple of random thoughts & images from Wellington: We finally got to walk around St Peter’s Church,(on the corner of Willis & Ghuznee Sts) which we often have driven past. It has a bemusing collection of rather benign & befuddled looking gargoyles, some of whom I have included pictures of below.

St Peter's Gargoyles 1St Peter's Gargoyle 4ST Peter's Gargoyle 3St Peter's Gargoyle 2

We watch Grand Designs when we remember, & have been watching the latest series where Kevin Mcleod is building a shed/retreat. He spent a lot of time making glue out of rabbit skins boiled with urine. When tested it was immensely strong. I was very surprised to come across packets of Rabbit Skin Glue for sale in the art shop, Gordon Harris in Wellington. I wonder what it’s used for & if it is still made with boiled urine!

Rabbit Skin GlueTripper our 3 legged Cat

I read an article in the Dom. Post by Gareth Morgan about cats & their cost on our native bird & lizard population, they estimate that a cat makes about 60 kills ayear, often not eating the prey. We have always had a cat, supposedly to keep the mice  & rats down, but in fact they mostly would bring them indoors, alive & let them go, so that the mouse would run under the fridge, or the back of a cupboard & have a warm place for the Winter!

Our cat, Tripper has only 3 legs, being born with only one front leg  so he could never climb a tree.  Now that he is about 12 years old he doesn’t even bother to look at a bird let alone stalk one. We’re wondering how hard it would be to find another 3 legged cat, when the time comes to replace him? Most likely that won’t happen so we shall become a cat free zone.

Morepork Blessings at New Year

We had a lovely surprise on New Year’s Eve, as we sat down by the creek at dusk, a Morepork called from the willows just behind us, we’ve heard it again since then, so hopefully it has come to stay. I love hearing the plaintive cry, it is many years since we’ve heard them here. I don’t feel superstitious about their visits, rather I feel encouraged that perhaps another creature has chosen to come & live here.

Some years ago now, we were camping by a local river, which had groves of willow on one side. I noticed white droppings on the trunks of some of the trees, & when we investigated we found four or five Moreporks roosting. At night we lit a small fire, & the light attracted moths, which in turn attracted the Moreporks. It was magic to watch them swooping in to catch moths, & hear the funny noises they made.

Growing up in England, & particularly living in Devon we saw & heard a lot of owls. Being the curious sort of person I was, I found a barn where a Barn Owl roosted, & collected the fallen pellets. Owl pellets are regurgitated bones & fur that can’t be digested, sounds disgusting I know. These pellets can be soaked in water & teased apart to reveal tiny bones. I had a book of wildlife in the U.K. with illustrations of skeletons, so could sometimes identify whether the owls dinner had been a shrew or a mouse. I know… I’ve always been a little obsessed with nature, harmless if a little weird.

Lily 1Lily 2Lily 3

Close up photos of a Lily that popped up in the garden, it smelt amazing.

Finally we’ve manged to do some weeding & trimming in the garden. Yesterday was perfect, overcast & not too hot, especially for me, I can hardly function outside when the temp. is up in the 30s. We have an old para pool we got, second hand about 15 years ago, & it is the best thing on a hot day to revive the flagging spirits, (& flagging body!)

We can now walk down many of the paths in the herb/vege garden having trimmed & propped various abundant plants into submission. Of course it won’t last for long, & we mostly enjoy the abundance & rampant plant growth that our garden creates. Our large patch of toms, peppers & eggplants is looking good, although a little late getting going this year. It’s going to be some weeks before we get to harvest much. Our strawberries were sadly neglected, as a crop of coriander came up in that bed. A legacy from the compost heap! So we are thinking to put in some brassicas & use the birdnetting to keep out the cabbage white butterflies, it’s also time to think about putting in some leek seedlings.

We wish all the many people who pass through  & browse our website, all the very best for 2013.

Let’s all be gentle with ourselves, each other, & with this beautiful, mysterious & generous planet we live on.

Wax Moth & Flystrike Yuk!

The regular rain we’ve been getting is wonderful for the fruit crops, but our tomatoes, peppers & eggplants are not thriving with the cooler nights, usually we’d be eating toms etc by now. We are getting plenty of Zucchini, so are getting creative eating those. We have a huge crop of grapes hanging around our deck, they are just starting to colour up, so it’s time to put some bird netting over them. The Asparagus I started from seed last year are coming away really well, I think we’ll be able to start harvesting the Spring after next. We’ve got a mix of green & purple, seeds from Kings. The Taro we planted last year around our para pool have grown well & the pool is all but hidden, like a lily pond.Photos below are Ehinacea purpurea, Asparagus seedlings, Taro & ripening Grapes

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We’ve nearly finished the main herb harvests now, that’s always a good feeling to know we’ve got enough oils, tinctures & dried herbs to see us through to next summer.

We’ve had very few frogs this year, & butterflies seem scarce too, apart from Cabbage Whites. Perhaps we need to look at having more Butterfly plants around, although we’ve got quite a few. We do have a lot of very busy Bumble Bees, & they work late in the evening, well after the bees have gone to bed.

Talking of bees, our hive has had a serious invasion of large Wax Moth, which are horrible big maggots, eating pollen etc & destroying the comb. We’ve never had them before, the poor bees are not very happy.

The other nasty thing at the moment to watch out for is Fly Strike, the combination of wet & warm weather & dirty bottoms in the sheep, makes them susceptible. We’ve had the flock crutched, & found one lamb with Flystrike. She was easy to spot, sitting a bit oddly & twitching her skin & nibbling at herself. It is just horrible,  we caught her & clipped back any fleece that looked damp or stained. We didn’t have powder to hand , so sprayed her with fly spray & then put our Animal First Aid ointment on all the affected places. Some days on, she’s looking a bit bald in places but seems quite happy.

Plants are a lot less stressful!!

Last week we went down to Wellington for a couple of nights. It’s always such a change going into the City. Have enclosed some photos, (mostly obscure, as to be expected.) We found it quite restful, not looking out of our window at a rampant garden crying out for attention. Of course after a couple of days we were missing said gardens & itching to get weeding. We got back on Saturday & it started to rain just as we started to unpack the car. It rained all night, 35 mm & in the morning our creek was flooding, which is always exciting. Nothing very exciting arrived, I think all the good stuff has been & gone. We used to get all sorts of old bottles & china. We have a yellow cruet set, the salt pot arrived about 12 years ago & the pepperpot about 2 years ago, very intriguing. All the flowers fell off the Sweet Chestnut tree & left our car looking like an artwork, see below.Middle photo below is  Pohutukawa petals on tree roots,

warped-cityscape pohutakawa-stamens giant-starfish

Now it’s very hot & windy, the worst weather for our poor garden, the lush growth is tender & falls over easily, the weeds are mad, but the grass is keeping the sheep happy. We have been spending an hour or so each day picking the St John’s wort flowers, they are doing very well, so it looks like we’ll be well supplied for the year.

creek-in-flood sweet-chestnut-flowers

washed-up-treasures

Happy Harvesting

Well, here we are, already at the end of January. I can dimly remember when I was little how a year seemed such a huge, incomprehensible amount of time, now it seems like something that rushes by dragging behind it lists of things to do, projects, plans & good intentions, followed by a breathless feeling of ‘where did the time go?’ One of my good intentions was to write more regularly in the blog, but already I am thwarted, (by myself because I follow my nose, I go into the garden to take photos & end up weeding for several hours…that kind of thing.) Enough about me, what you’re really hear to find out is what’s going on in the gardens etc.

As many of you know all too well, the weather has been erratic, how’s that for understatement? In one 24 hour period our maximum/minimum thermometer read 6 degrees& 36 degrees. We have had the impending sense of serious drought, relieved by over 100ml of rain in two nights & a day, amazingly there was hardly any run off, the land just soaked it all up, our creek barely changed. We watched in appalled shock the scenes of flooding in Australia, made more scary because we have family near Brisbane & Echuca, fortunately they were fine. It’s very sobering to see the power of nature & what helpless ants we are in the face of such large scale devastation. What amazes & touches me, is the resilience of people & communities to clean up the mess & get on with life. I am having trouble staying focussed, see this is exactly the problem I have with getting things done.

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Ok, since I last wrote we have harvested our garlic, great crop, onions: pretty crap crop, lots with bull necks & small, probably from the black mould they got. Must remember to plant well away next season. We’ve planted leeks, & now the soil is moist I plan to put in a whole lot of root crop seeds. We found an online moon calender to print off, from the New Zealand Gardener, a simple round one that you can rotate to see what to do when, ‘ideally’ Our potatoes are looking great & we’ve started diggiing the Ilam Hardys, which are an early crop. Geoff has been giving me a hard time about planting numerous zucchini, & yes we do have a plentiful supply, but I’ve discovered that not only do we have about 20 eggplants in, but about 8 cucumber plants, so we also have bounty from them. We got a packet of mixed pumpkin seeds from Niche, with 6 different sorts, including 2 french varieties & Sweet Dumpling, which has fruit on that look ready to pick, so we’ll have to try one soon.

 

The tomatoes are starting to crop, the bush ones were initially quite small, (lack of water) but are filling out now, & the staked ones are not too far away. We used to do all sorts of fancy sauces & bottling but now mostly wash them & freeze them whole to use later. I will cook some up with zucchini, if there’s any to spare, & freeze for casseroles. The herbs have produced well, St John’s Wort is still flowering & we are picking every flower to put into oil, as we’ll need about 40 litres to see us through the year.

The Arnica has been really prolific, we started a new plot & the plants are obviously very happy. Also picking German Chamomile to dry, & have made up tinctures of Hypercal & Arnica.Now is the time to pick herbs to dry for the Winter, ideally just before they flower, Sweet Marjoram & Lemon Savory are drying in our garden caravan, out of the sun, but nice & warm.The plums are a bit sad this year, because they got so wrecked last year, but looks like we’ll have lots of pears & apples, & masses of walnuts, I love walnuts, can’t bake cakes or biscuits without them.

We bought some Cannas on Trade Me, about 6 different colours, they are growing on in pots for the time being, we’ll plant them next Spring, they are perfect in our garden, cover up the couch grass, & look spectacular in late Summer.

Puffballs & Harvesting Herbs

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(The above photo is of moths around the light, taken on a slow shutter speed, aren’t they beautiful?)

I can’t believe that nearly 2 months have gone by since I last wrote in the blog. As you can probably imagine, it’s been a hectic few weeks, so I won’t bore you with the details. Meanwhile the gardens continue to do their thing, growing steadily, flowering, seeding, weeds happen, zucchini are ready to eat, it’s been cold & hot, wet & dry windy & still, often all in one day. After all the festivities & family time we are needing to get focussed again while the plants are flowering. We are busy processing St John’s Wort flowers into oil & into Vodka to make Hypercal tincture, the Arnica is flowering intermittently, Mullein flowers need picking daily.

Also the new vinegars we are making (to go with the Shampoo & Body Bars, nicknamed “Shoaps”) are requiring us to stockpile various herbs & Rose petals for the Winter months, as well as making up new batches. Today we’ve cooked up the Elderflower oils & Coldsore Oil made with Lemon Balm & Selfheal. Also made batches of Eczema Cream & Shaving Soap, & bottled 2 sorts of Hair Rinse Vinegars. Tomorrow we need to make more Aloe vera oil, label today’s efforts & pack orders. There’s a good sense of routine & familiarity to these regular jobs, & we always look forward to going over to the workroom & getting into it. We feel very lucky to enjoy what we do & make a living out of it, what more could we ask for?We had an out of season visitor, a Giant Puffball, Lycoperdon giganteum, which we harvested & ate over several days. You need to pick Puffballs when they are still squeaky & white inside. We just slice it thinly & fry in butter, & as Geoff discovered they are pretty good dipped in batter too. In Richard Mabey’s book “Food for Free” he writes about the potential for reproduction a Puffball has…’a single Puffball has up to seven billion spores, if all these germinated successfully & produced similar specimens, with equally successful spores, their grandchildren would form a mass 800 times the volume of the Earth” wow!

This one weighed about 1kg so was just a middle sized one. They are soporific, so too are lettuces, as you may remember, much to the Flopsy Bunnies misfortune.

Post Christmas Highs

Well we’ve survived another Christmas, we camped down at the creek mostly, which saves the house getting trashed. We had about 20 family & friends off & on, & ate well of course. One dramatic day there was a big thunderstorm, & we got over 50ml of rain in an hour, which was brilliant…except the creek rose fast, & we were unsure whether to dismantle the tents in the pouring rain or not

Luckily the water level dropped again, & the next day was hot, so all the wet gear dried out. We think Eli was washed down stream, because the next evening we heard loud splashes in the creek bed, & saw a huge eel swimming up stream to the big pool. In the morning Eli was there & we realised it had been him, he looked enormous out of the water.

Some rain in the gardens has been fantastic, & the brown hills around us are greening up too. Life is settling back into it’s usual gentle rhythms. We’re picking St. John’s Wort & Arnica flowers for our oils. We’ve harvested our onions & garlic, which is now drying in the old caravan. Geoff collected a swarm of bees the other day, it’s quite small, but we’re hoping it will establish in our empty hive.  The birds are starting to raid the orchard, pecking at barely ripened plums & apples & knocking them off the trees, dammit! at least they can’t get to the berry fruits any more.

There seem to be more butterflies around this year, as well as the Monarchs, we’ve seen Red & Yellow Admirals, a Magpie moth  &  a Cinnabar Moth. The lone Two Spined Spider we saw last year has become 3, & one of them has been sitting patiently in the Crampbark bush all week. (See the Good the Bad & the Ugly categories for more info.)

The gap where we moved the wood shed from has become the ‘Sunset Seat’ we often sit there & watch the evening settle in, it’s very calm & beautiful. Geoff has had to eat his words, he thought we’d never use it!

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Hot Stuff

In the cooler parts of the day, we’ve been reclaiming our vege & herb garden. It’s been an early season & many of the herbs need cutting back, having finished flowering. Where the onions came out we have sown seeds of carrot & beetroot, several colours of each, & Lettuces, which will hopefully feed us during the winter months. We’ve sown a second planting of zucchini, to follow on when the first ones keel over. We have left space to plant leek plants, which we’ll buy in a bundle & plant out from Feb onwards.

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In the hottest times we work in the workroom, making ointments etc, & this week we’ve been processing the first oils we started, Elderflower, Calendula & St. John’s Wort. This get stored in a cool, dark place until we need them.

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Our big pond needs topping up regularly at this time of year, it’s amazing how much evaporates, & of course some seeps away. It looks like a wilderness, with Purple Loosestrife flowering around the edges, & huge Gunnera shading the water.