Category: June


We had a big frost last week, & went out to take some photos. Rugged up against the cold, in thick jacket, hat & gloves it was possible to appreciate the delicate beauty of the early morning. Giles had discovered some photos online of frozen bubbles, so we spent some time playing with that idea, & blowing bubbles onto the roof of the car. Most pop quite fast, but the ones that stay very slowly freeze, with those lovely fern-like patterns that frost makes. As gardeners we are happy to get some good frosts to help clean the garden of nasty bugs & also to provide the chilling that many of the plants we grow, need, to  anchor them into their seasonal cycle. Most of our garden & herb garden is planted in deciduous plants, trees & shrubs, which all enjoy a good frost & a rest over the colder months.

Bubbles & Frost

Frosty MorningSoft Morning Light

Our plants might be resting but we are not. We are re-organising our herb garden in a major way. The central bed had become totally overgrown by a tenacious mix of St. John’s Wort, Solomon’s Seal & Couch grass. Geoff has dug this out & we have sifted through the soil to pick out any roots left behind. We’ve planted a new bed of St. John’s Wort, where it is surrounded by lawn , so hopefully it will be contained.  We’ll plant annual herbs & vegetables in the old bed, so we can dig out any Couch etc that shows up. We’ve also doubled the size of our Arnica bed, so we should have a good crop this year. Next on the list is to clean up the Meadowsweet bed & split the plants up, as they are very congested & not producing many flowers. That area is also rife in Couch Grass, so we shall have a good dig around & mulch were we can. Mulching certainly seems to help keep the Couch under control, as it comes up to the surface, under the mulch, & is easy to pull out. We use old cardboard boxes or thick layers of newspaper, & cover these with leaf mulch or similar, heavy cover.

Couch roots under pavers Equisetum hyemale Cleared beds Couch & Taro

Our bath pond is also in need of a good sort out, it has a variety of Horsetail in it, E. hyemale,whichalthough not as rampant as E. arvense, still spreads & has nearly filled the bath. We shall have to dispose of the unwanted roots very carefully, probably on top of a bonfire heap. We are hoping our frogs will return in the Spring & be delighted to find a bit more space in their pool.

New St. John's Wort bed Tidy Herb Garden

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Some Cool Ideas.

We have been eating Feijoas for some weeks now, & they are just about finished. We scooped several buckets worth & cooked them up to freeze. The simplest way to get the flesh out, is to halve the fruit & then just twist a teaspoon inside the skin to free the flesh. One can get quite fast at this, & it’s even better with a group of you & some distracting conversation. Even so a bucket full yields only a few pots when cooked. I add 2 tblsp of sugar to each saucepan full, & cook until the whole lot is boiling, this stops them discolouring in the freezer.

As a bonus I kept the excess juice from cooking, (no added water) & made Feijoa Champagne, economical, quick,simple & divine!

This recipe was given to us by Malcolm & Amanda in Gisborne, & was originally for Rhubarb, but now I’m thinking it can be used for any fruit that has tasty juice.

FEIJOA CHAMPAGNE:

Into a 2L plastic bottle put:

11/2 -2 cups cooled juice

1 cup sugar

Water to fill within 5cm of top of bottle.

Pinch of wine or cider yeast

Put in a warm place for 3 days or until bottle is tight, than store in fridge.

It is amazingly frothy, like a creaming soda & of course it tastes wonderful.

Feijoa Champagne

 

COMPOST HEAPS:

Geoff has come up with a great system for composting, that only requires one bin. He’s built a square bin, the sides are about 1.5m & it is 50cm tall, although you could make it taller. We set it up in the middle of a garden bed & made compost as usual, when the heap was ready to dig, we lifted the bin up & set it next door. After putting some bigger stalks etc in the bottom for drainage, we put the top of the first bin, & any bits not broken down into the new bin.

We were left with a lovely pile of compost, most of which we spread out where it was, & some got used to feed the Asparagus .

Moveable Compost HeapDelicious Compost!

WEATHERPROOFED DECK:

The other new addition we’ve made recently is to close in our deck with plastic. We were inspired by the Cafes that have covered outdoor areas, but the cost of that thick plastic was daunting.

After searching for some time on the net, Geoff found a company called Redpath, who supply greenhouse plastic etc. The good thing we found was a canny way of putting the plastic up, using runners. These fit firmly but can be removed easily to take down the plastic as needed. For about $200 we have covered in 3 sides of an area 3m by 9m, with the house wall providing the 4th side. The gate to the pool still opens so if it’s really hot we can open that, & we have a doorway at the opposite end of the deck which we can open or close with a big hanging bedspread.

Not only do we have a warm, dry & sunny area to sit in, but the warmth radiates through the house, & offers extra insulation & weatherproofing. Surprisingly too it doesn’t billow noisily in the wind.

We figure if we have the panels up 6 months each year we could get at least 12 years use out of them, the plastic has a 7 year warranty. We’ll need to store the plastic out of the sun when we take it down.

 I can’t believe that such a simple addition has improved our quality of life so much, having a sunny, dry place to eat lunch & hang out is brilliant, plus when the Grandchildren come, it’s perfect for playing Lego!!

Deck

Wetlands

As a special treat on Queen’s Birthday weekend, we went over to the Clive River & walked the track out to the sea. It was one of those brilliant days, starting with a crisp frost & burgeoning into clear blue skies & sunshine. The friends we went with generously provided an added incentive, of a thermos of tea & cake, when we reached the beach!

As we walked we looked out for birds, we didn’t manage 20 which was the record so far, but we did pretty well. We saw Pukeko, Skylarks, Swallows, Harrier Hawks, Kingfisher, Thrush (well we heard one), Pied Stilts, Spur Winged Plover, Heron-Blue Reef? Canada Geese,Black & White Swans, Little Pied Shag, Pied Shag & Black Shag, Red Billed Gulls & Black backed Gulls, Gannets & White Fronted Terns. If we’d seen the Spoonbills we would have made 20, but alas the tide was coming in, so there was not the right sort of dabbling conditions. Hopefully next time we’ll spot them. Will definitely take the binoculars next time, & now we’re thinking that a camera with a better zoom would be a good idea. It’s a slippery path, justification!

Here are a few photos to share with you.

clive-riverclive-river-2clive-wetlandslittle-pied-shagwhite-swan

Although most of the gardens are looking extremely scruffy, there are still some little treasures to be spotted as we wander around. Geoff took these photos.

Grape LeavesCobwebFrost

The cider we started some weeks ago, failed to ferment properly & was still very sweet, too cold perhaps? Geoff added some commercial cider yeast & put a warming ring around one of the buckets & a pad under the other. The bucket lids have wine airlocks fitted & now they are blipping away merrily. Next year I think we shall put the yeast in when we have strained out the apple pulp.

Today we planted our garlic bulbs out, this is probably a record in efficiency for us. Next on the list are Tree Onions & Onion plants.  We are gradually filling in the bare ground in the vege garden, from one side, so that the area is used is compact & hopefully will leave little room for weeds. We got hold of  a few bales of organic lentil hay & this is a great mulch. (It wasn’t so great in fact, as we introduced hundreds of Dock seeds, which are thriving!)I have plans to gather up the leaves around the place & use those too. We’ve got cabbages & broccoli doing well, also some celeriac & root veges. I’m most peeved to say that after several attempts at growing Florence Fennel, Geoff put some seeds in & has grown the most beautiful crop.We are having a go at growing Oyster Mushrooms, this is very interesting, esp. since Geoff’s Dad was a mushroom grower. I can’t see us getting beyond enough for a meal now & then. They are fascinating to watch grow, & quite lovely.  The original kit was supplied by  Mushroom Gourmet Ltd, http://www.14u.co.nz now we are having a go at using our own leaves & straw & a handful of the original culture.

We’ve had feijoas in excess, & I feel bad that I haven’t managed to put any in the freezer, I might just manage a few, I love having them for desserts in the Winter.  Some years these things just get missed out, the squirrel in me gets most upset! Meantime the Waxeyes are sneaking up on the deck & getting a feed from our baskets.

We had a big frost this week, it hasn’t affected the garden much since all the frost tender things were zapped a while ago,  I can’t resist going out with the camera & taking some photos.I forgot to mention that we had a meeting in Pukehou, a couple of weeks ago. Claire Bleakly came & presented a power point, informative talk on G.E. & what’s happening in NZ at the moment. It was great to see about 40 people turn up, most having a commitment to organics & a wish to protect our lovely country from  un-contained GE experiments. There is a website you can visit, & if inclined you can become a member. It costs $25 for a single person or $35 for a family. Check it out on www.gefree.org.nz

The South Wind Doth Blow

I’ve just added some photos to the Cider making article, as we had a session of alcohol related jobs over the weekend. We strained & added sugar to our cider, & started a batch of Crabapple & date wine as well. Great projects for these  cold Southerly days. I’ve also started an experimental batch of cider vinegar, not sure how good this will turn out, it looks pretty weird.

In the garden, most things are huddling under ground still, but the little lupins are bravely growing, & the salad patch is looking very productive. I think it must be about time I dug up the Chicory plants & put them in pots to force. The leeks are still a bit small for eating, but seem to be growing alright, we have a surprise crop of Coriander coming up in between them which is really vigorous. The other self seeded bonus has been a patch of Tat-soi, we just pick the biggest plants & the smaller ones fill the gaps.It’s leaves are delicious in stir fry, Laksa, vege curries, almost anything in fact that has an oriental leaning.

In the flower garden the violets & primroses are just starting to bloom, & the lovely Hellebores. The Wintersweet is covered in buds again,  not long before we can bring sprigs ino the house. The herb garden needs a lot of work, pruning back frosted plants & weeding out the Speedwell, that’ll have to wait for some warmer weather!

We’ve cleaned out & pruned the soft fruit garden, just trimming the Red Currants a bit, & cutting the stems that fruited this year off of the Raspberries. The Strawbs need a bit of a sort out, cutting off dead leaves & taking out runners to plant in other gaps.

We bought a new ram & 2 ewes, Suffolks, which look very trim & tidy next to our rag tag girls, but some of those girls are starting to look decidedly portly, so it looks like there will be a few lambs. We took some lambs to the Stock Sales & were amazed to get $125 each for them, which was just as well as it covered the costs of the new sheep on the block.

The ruddy hens won’t sleep in their new, insulated house, preferring the draughty, half open one, I’m very peeved! I had been happily imagining them all cosy at night, but no…. perhaps it’s too dark in there?

The South wind doth blow, & we shall have snow, & what will poor chookies do then, they’ll roost in the shed & freeze half to death, & tuck their heads under their wings, poor things!

fire-poi.jpg

A Brief Encounter With Snow

The big excitement here, over Queen’s Birthday weekend was the SNOW. I realise for many people this is not a novelty, but for us it was beautiful, & for me it brought back memories of my English childhood, & Christmas, bizarre isn’t it?

Luckily, & with a smidgeon of good planning, Geoff & I had spent Friday cutting up firewood & filling the wood shed, so we were warm & cosy, except for our brief & enthusiastic forays outside.

On Sunday night we drove up Te Onepu hill with Giles & Libby & the intrepid (yeah right!) Rifkin. The snow was dazzling & beautiful as it cascaded through the lights of the car, how I wished I’d thought to take the camera. When we stopped, there was that special hush, except for the squeak of snow underfoot.

Next day much of the snow had gone, & what was left was a bit slushy, still we managed to throw a few snowballs & make a warped little snowman! There were loads of cars going up & down the hill, filled with rugged up inhabitants, glimpsed through steamy windows.

How neat it is, seeing families going out to share the snow together, it’s brief beauty here in Hawkes Bay will make lasting memories. Now can anyone tell me, how is it that snow falls to 200/500 metres etc rather than over an area, part way down the hill it just stopped, how does that work??

snow-in-june-003.jpg

The Shortest Day

Well the shortest day has been & gone, & although we probably have the coldest weather to come, it always feels optimistic to reach the halfway mark. It’s been a few weeks since I last wrote in the blog, during that time we have caught up with all 3 of our grown-up children, which is a great feeling. We worked together, with Richard, Giles & Libby gathering in firewood & doing some major projects around the place that needed extra muscle! Then we went to Hamilton, to visit our daughter & her family, which was very special too. In between eating & catching up on each other’s news we explored Hamilton a bit.

The Botanic Gardens (above, & photo of Geoff with Tahlia, our granddaughter, in the beloved backpack) were a revelation, even at this time of year. We had a good look around the themed gardens, & will go back to look again in the Spring. We also explored Lake Rotoroa, near the Hospital. This is a huge lake, with excellent walkways all the way round, & beautiful new plantings of reeds, grasses etc. Heaps of bird life too. It was lovely on a Sunday morning to see so many people out & about, enjoying the area.

We’ve had a run of heavy frosts, leaves are still falling from some shrubs, & at the same time new life is stirring, the buds on the magnolias are swelling, & the Wintersweet & Kowhai ‘Dragon’s Gold’ have their first flowers.

Kowhai 'Dragon's Gold'

Our experimental Tamarillo tree, still has 11 fruit on, which are nearly ripe, despite the top leaves being frosted. The Feijoas are still cropping, it must be the best year ever, we’ve learnt that if we store them in a cool place they don’t become over-ripe. The sheep have developed a taste for the smaller fruit, which we throw over the fence.

In a sheltered area we have a Strelitzia, which grows soooo slowly, but we just noticed it has, what looks like, a flower bud on it, hopefully it will weather the frosts.

(Photos above L. to R. sun rising through mist on the Te Hauke flats, Gunnera leaves, crumpled by frost, Copper Beech, View from garden)

Trade Aid has an art exhibition on at the moment, you can view their website at www.tradeaid.co.nz It’s an internet competition, I have entered a basket made of garden rubbish, but I don’t expect to come anywhere as there are some really clever entries, it’s well worth a look. One of our favourites, in the Primary section, is a pair of shoes made out of milk bottles, they look so funny.