Category: March


Autumn Harvests

It’s a busy time of year for those of us with a strong ‘Inner Squirrel’. The last of our peaches have been picked, many given away, eaten, some cooked & frozen for the Winter, & some made (hopefully) into Peach Parfait Wine.Which we anticipate being a Rose Dessert Wine at some stage in the future. Of course there is a long way between the process & the imbibing & it can be a perilous journey! I’ll put the recipe & some pics in the Winemaking section.

Meanwhile the next onslaught is walnuts, & I am just as obsessive about gathering & hoarding those. Didgit the dog is a great help, merrily crunching or insisting that I throw the useless black nuts for her to chase. At the moment I am laying the nuts to dry on sheets of old frost cloth, in the garden caravan. When that is full I shall have to get myself organised & tidy the greenhouse so I can fill the benches. Once they are dried we store them in onion sacks until needed. We only crack enough to fill a jar or so at a time, or in a rush when in the middle of making bread or biscuits, & we realise the jar is empty. After the Walnuts come Feijoas, & then the pressure is off. No I lie, I have just been out playing ball with the dogs & realised that the Chestnuts are just starting to drop. The edible ones are the Sweet Chestnuts which are incredibly prickly, Horse Chestnuts (Conkers) are more like spiky helmets, the conkers are a beautiful rich brown, with swirls & lines on them, not edible but do have some medicinal uses, mainly in a tincture to treat varicose veins.

  

In the vege garden the Brassica that we planted some weeks ago, under netting, have thrived & look very promising. The Fennel plants are bulbing up nicely & the Leeks are plumping up, so our plans for Winter veges are on track. We have started weeding & clearing debris from various parts of the garden, as things finish up. We’ve plonked the mobile compost heap in the middle & heap piles of weeds & sheep poo into it. Luckily over a couple of days it compacts & we can fit more in. We’ve just been given two tiers of a worm farm & have started some tiger & red worms in it. It seems there is a bit of trial & error involved in keeping it going, so hopefully our new friends will thrive.

 

I cut back the Basil plants the other day, & experimented making Basil Oil. It has worked really well, & if you want to make your own it’s very simple, & also a great way to use up the flower heads. It needs no extra care to keep fresh & I think it will be brilliant for cooking with & adding to salad dressings, especially Tomato salads.

Basil Oil: Take all the trimmings & cram into a 1 litre Agee jar, fill with oil (I used Rice Bran, any mild oil will do) to within 2cm of top. This takes a whiles as the oil settles through the compacted leaves. In a smallish saucepan, put something in the bottom to keep the jar out of contact with the pan bottom. I used an Indian mesh ring that usually goes on the gas hob to spread the heat, this sagged a bit in the middle, so I put a tea caddy spoon in the centre. Sit the jar on this gadget & put in cold water up to about 2/3 way up the jar. Simmer on low heat for an hour or so, poking with a chop stick from time to time. Remember to keep the water topped up, using hot water. Strain when done & store in a glass jar or bottle in the dark, ready for creating amazing taste sensations.

 

Next experiment is Chilli Oil, using the same method, I shall report back later.

Waipatiki Beach

We went to Waipatiki Beach last weekend & stayed in a little cabin in the campsite there. It’s only an hour or so’s drive from here & is just wonderful. The beach is small, enclosed at both sides by towering cliffs. The coast is rugged & strewn with big boulders, fossil laden rocks & other interesting bits & pieces.

There are cliff walks, which reminded me of coastal walks as a child in Devon & Cornwall, the burnt umber rocks & the deep blue sea & churning, creaming waves. We had a plan to make one or two Andrew Goldsworthy-esque sculptures, so here are some photos…

If you get a chance take a day or two & go explore.

I’ve been putting off writing the blog for the last few weeks, the current events have left me saddened & sober, pondering the whys & wherefores of life & feeling incredibly lucky to have a home & garden to work in.  Then I thought that it’s often the small things in life that keep us going & give us a sense of continuity & meaning, I don’t want to feel trivial in what I write. I think the optimism we cultivate as gardeners is also the optimism that emerges in a place such as Christchurch, once the scale of things is taken in, & that the many small things do make a difference.

Geoff & I have felt very saddened & helpless watching & hearing the ongoing news. Our hearts go out to you, in Christchurch, especially those who have lost loved ones.The scale of disaster in Japan is so enormous, I can hardly take it in, nor react appropriately, it’s beyond imagining in all ways. I think many of us have become newly aware of how interconnected the World is, the ripples both real & metaphorical are touching us all. The service for Christchurch on Friday touched several times on love & peace, those old  ‘hippy’  buzzwords, suddenly brought back into stark & newly meaningful context.

A reminder to live life each day, as best we can, love as best we can, & embrace our integrity.waipatiki-beach-066.jpg

We’ve had a great weekend at womad. It’s so good having flexibility, one of the things we really value about working from home. I may have mentioned before, we have a lovely old ‘Zephyr de-luxe’ caravan, circa 1963, it’s 15 ft, with a double bed & all we need for travelling. It is a safe haven for me, since getting M.E. I’ve felt quite vulnerable going away from home. This is the perfect solution, take our home with us!

We drove over to New Plymouth on the thursday & stayed at the Belt Rd camping ground, with a view straight from our window, out to sea, fantastic. We walked the coastal path into town for dinner, about 15 mins each way.

The weekend has gone by in a rush of images & music, people, the beautiful Mountain, no hassles, everyone was friendly & helpful. slow mornings, coffee & long breakfasts, then oops it’s nearly midday, back again into the crowds & energy. What a brilliant concept, & how lucky to have it here, in such a beautiful venue. There’s some live footage of the musicians on You Tube, I think, Geoff’s the one who ferrets out music to watch.

Of course this week has been spent catching up on jobs, picking fruit & vege & trying to process it all. Tonight I’ve cooked up the Cherry Peppers in vinegar, with sugar & salt, so will see, tomorrow, if I’m close to the flavour. Took a while cleaning them out, with gloves on to avoid burning my fingers or rubbing my eyes without thinking. Will report back on progress….

Think the peppers have worked, will put up the recipe soon!

Ok we’ve tried the pickled peppers & they are pretty close to Pepperdews, a bit hotter, & next time I’ll put a bit more sugar in. Here’s the recipe as work in progress & with a bit more sugar.

Cut the tops off the peppers & clean out the seeds. As mentioned before, wear some disposable gloves. I got an old peeler from the op shop with a good pointy end which is perfect for digging the seeds out. In rough measurements, for about 1L. of peppers cover with 1L. of white vinegar, 1tsp salt & 5 -6 tblsp sugar. Bring to boil & simmer 15 to 20 minutes until tender. You might want to try the syrup to see if it suits you. Pack into a clean jar & pour the hot vinegar over, run a knife around the sides to get out air bubbles.

The whole lot packed into a large agee jar, which we’re storing in the fridge. Some vinegar was left over & we put that in a bottle for cooking with as it has quite a kick to it.

We tried the peppers today with some cubes of feta, pretty close to what I had in mind.

Swings & Roundabouts

It’s been over a month since I last wrote in the diary. I’ve just been jotting down a list of successes & failures we’ve had in the garden. Ironically we’ve had failures from not enough water & too much water! On the plus side our Eggplants, Peppers, Basil, Scallopini & Bush Tomatoes are yielding well (See recipes for Vege curry recipe). The little cherry peppers are turning red, & I’m planning to harvest some this week & have a go at turning them into “Pepperdews” which incidentally is a trademark name for a special South African pepper.

We’ve had great crops of Pears, & White fleshed Peaches & still have some to come. The earlier Apples have been good too, & more to come, also our first Grapes from a new vine we’ve planted by the deck. The birds moved in on the grapes well before they were ripe enough for us, but the CDs hanging from the vine have meant we’ve managed to get some too. Must remember next year to hang some up early on.

The sad Raspberries in the soft fruit house have rallied & are cropping well. We’ve been feeling decadent having home made granola, yoghurt & grapes, raspberries & strawbs from the garden, what more could one ask for to start the day?

In the damp area the pumpkins are thriving, & so too is the rhubarb, this is the first time we’ve had rhubarb as up until this year , our wayward sheep have leaned over the fence & eaten all the leaves, don’t they know it’s poisonous? I’ve stewed up a couple of lots of rhubarb, I was inspired by Giles & Libby to add a few strawberries once it was cooked. This is great, as well as rounding out the flavour, they added some colour to our mostly green stems. I had a dessert at “Olive’ Restaurant in wellington, called “Eton Crush” which was delicious. It was a mix of cream & yoghurt with cruched meringue, rhubarb & strawberries in it. I saw Nigella make a similar dish using meringue & pomegranate.

Alas the melons have mostly rotted, although the few we’ve had were delicious, & we grew some Golden Bantam sweetcorn, whether it was lack of water I don’t know, but the corn was disappointing, stodgy & sticky. The carrot & beetroot seeds we sowed,some weeks ago & thought we’d fried, have all popped up after a good drop of rain. We’ve resown the parsnips & fennel.The celariac seedlings are growing on well. In a few weeks we’ll make a repeat sowing of most of the root veges, & that should see us through the winter. We’ll probably plant broadbeans in the patch where the spuds are now, & maybe a few more plants of silverbeet.

After the rain we planted about 150 leek plants, a bit later than usual for us. The seeds we put in are growing but still small, so we bought a couple of bundles of plants, I’d rather have leeks over Winter than be a purist!

Thank goodness we have a freezer! We used to bottle tomatoes & fruit every year, but with a freezer we can cook up small amounts at a time, rather than a marathon of preserving. We’ve decided that we want to have enough tomatoes for about 8 months, usually we supplement with watties toms, thinking at least they hadn’t travelled very far. Now we have become disillusioned as we read on the label that Italian toms are also used, how crazy is that? We cook our toms in a big frying pan, so they cook quickly. Some we add sliced zucchini to, others a handful of chopped Basil, & some we leave plain. We’ve also frozen a few bags of smallish toms whole, just washing them clean & taking off the calyx. These will be good for our bulk curries & casseroles. We’ve also cooked up peaches  for the freezer. We have a number of pottles which we recycle, once the food is frozen we can take it out of the pots & put into bags. Then re-use the pots over & over. Last year we bought a dehydrator at a garage sale. Pears dry really well, just sliced into thin circles. We use them later in granola, they just need chopping up. We tried plums but they were too strong & sour for us. Peaches are good, & we tried some melon & that was tasty too.

On Sunday, we had a stall at a Fair at Duart House in Havelock North. It was organised by the Arthritis Foundation NZ. It was a great venue, the weather was perfect & the crowd relaxed & friendly. Duart House is a graceful old building, harking back to the Victorian era, so the theme was Victorian, any excuse to dress up!

Autumn In The Air

Autumn is definitely in the air, it’s really chilly in the mornings & often the valley is shrouded in mist until the sun warms it up. I love this time of year, my English upbringing means I relish the changing of the seasons, & I love that feeling of getting harvests stored away for the colder months. Of course here in Hawkes Bay, we have the best of both worlds, frosts & Autumn colours, then glorious sunny days. I like the shift to fires in the evenings, & big casseroles for tea. Spring appears very quickly, with the small bulbs, primroses, Pulmonaria & other early treasures. Our Dragon’s Gold Kowhai flowers in June, well before the bigger trees. So in that way it’s not at all like England, where the cold & wet seems to drag on & on. The ornamental Salvias come into their own now, giving the garden much needed flashes of colour. Below are a few, S. guaranitica, S. conflertiflora (Flirty Flora) S. superba, & S. bethelii,Boatman’s Sage

The vege garden is on the turn, the cold nights are slowing down the tomatoes, our peppers & chillies have been slow to produce anyway. The beginnings of our winter garden are looking good, beetroot & carrots are bulking up, we have 3 successive plantings of leeks in, the celariac is starting to form bulbs, & lettuces are coming away well. We’re digging potatoes as we need them, but will eventually dig up the whole lot & store them in a cool, dark place.

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We processed the wax cappings, it’s a very messy business! We melted the whole lot down with a litre or so of water, strained it, & poured it into an old olive oil tin, with the bottom cut off. This was a cunning idea we gleaned from the Beekeepers magazine. The idea is that the tap stays at the bottom, & if needs be you can run some water out to release the vacuum, after the wax sets. The other tip, is to punch 2 holes either side, on the top rim, & when the wax & water mix has been poured in, pull the sides together with a piece of wire. When set, you release the wire & the wax comes out easily. Do this process outside or on lots of newspaper, it’s really messy & so sticky. Use an old pan or tin to melt down in, as it will never be the same again. We’ve got just over 1kg of beautiful wax from our one hive. It’s so precious we’ve decided to make candles using it, so we can appreciate it for a long time.

Water

It’s a hard time of year to have a vege garden in Hawkes Bay, while we rejoice in our wonderful climate, it can get a bit oppressive. The rain forecast for the weekend turned into hot winds, dessicating the gardens, & stressing the young vege plants. Luckily we can source water from the Millstream, but we only use it sparingly. We water just where we need to, in the evenings, & hope for a good downpour.

Despite these hardships the garden is producing abundantly, especially the tomatoes, so nearly every meal has tomatoes in it, & we’re just starting to cook some down for the freezer. We’ve decided to make a variety of pots, tomato & courgette with Basil, Indian tomatoes a la Watties, & a chilli mix, hopefully we can freeze enough to see us through to next summer.

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