Category: May


Wintertime

Winter is here, after dragging it’s heels for some weeks. It has arrived in earnest.

We have filled our woodsheds with a mix of Willow, Robinia & Apple wood, which is a good combination for hot fires. Our routines change, we dawdle in house in the mornings, thinking of tasks that just have to be done beside the fire. Porridge has appeared on the breakfast menu, or tea & toast on an especially slow start. I have remembered last years soup recipes & made big pots of Pea & Ham soup, & our ‘Oxtail without the Tail Soup’, putting pots into the freezer for later. Casseroles & stews , lasagnes, Shepherd’s Pie & curries are in our thoughts, & on our plates. We have a great system at present, where Geoff, Giles & I take turns to cook, & we each cook enough for two nights, so we only cook once a week each, plus a fry up or freezer meal for the odd day, I love it. I’m starting to try out some new recipes, instead of just cooking in a rush as I often do.Frosted Garden Gingko after Frost

There’s nothing nicer than finishing work & coming home to a cosy fire & warm house, with maybe the option of a hot bath, courtesy of the coalrange. The cat has taken up residence under our old Fire Nymph, & we let our old dog Rif sleep indoors at night. They are both about 14 & getting a bit frail. Young Didgit gets put in the kennel, & wakes me in the mornings with her big, wet, cold nose thrust into my face.

Rif asleep Tripper under the Fire Nymph

The frosts have knocked back everything that dies down or simply dies with the cold, & at present there are drooping, wilted frost burnt leaves strewn about the gardens, looking rather depressing. The trees however look lovely, & golden leaves float down from them with every whisper of breeze. Despite the Winter chill, we are needing water, our rain tanks, which filled so well in April with over 200ml of rain, are getting low as we’ve only had 20 ml this month so far, the weather forecast always says rain later in the week, but when we get there, it has moved on again.

Mice & rats are a bit of a pest now, they gnaw at night sounding like they will eat through the timbers that hold the walls up, or that they are rolling heavy balls up & down, or maybe chewing through our wiring. I pretend to myself it just very noisy mice, but I am afraid that it’s rats in the walls. We have set traps & laid bait, neither of which we like to do, but it’s us or them.

Last weekend we got woken up at 5.30am by bangs & booms, it turned out to be duck shooters in the paddock behind our house. They were shooting Paradise Ducks, & over the day I think they wiped out the whole lot. I know they are a pest, & there were lots of them, but I do miss them. I have been in the habit of sitting in bed in the morning with a cuppa & watching them go about their duck business. Occasionally a hawk would fly over & the whole lot would rise into the air, & do that magic thing where they turn, flashing from black to white & black again. Now the paddock looks forlorn & bare. I guess it won’t be long before some other parries find the spot & move in.

Paradise Duck Decoy Brimfull woodshed

Our Feijoas are prolific & big this year, next on my ‘to do’ list is to cook some up & freeze, we’ve made Chutney & Feijoa Farmhouse Cake from an old Listener recipe, & of course we give them away to anyone who can be persuaded to take them. Luckily they are quite a bit later than most people’s crops so we can find takers. Giles has plans to make wine, to add to the growing collection wired onto our top shelf. This includes the Peach Parfait, Beetroot & Carrot with Lemon Balm.

Feijoas still on tree Autumn Bonfire

It’s both the bliss & burden of a ‘lifestyle’ block, the satisfaction & stress of using up, storing or giving away our harvests. I wouldn’t have it any other way, I’m happy to have time to do these things in amongst ‘work’, & really it all becomes one & the same, & I would never give this up for a huge salary, commuting to work & all the stresses that go with that.

Enjoying some quiet times

There’s a great little market that happens every Sunday in Otane. The last Sunday of each month is also a carboot sale. Today we found a large pestle & mortar on a stall, for $15. We have a modest collection of these, but none so big as this. It’s very timely as I have been wanting to crush up some bulk spices to put in a Red Bush spicy Chai mix. We used to drink Red Bush all the time, many years ago, & have come round full circle to remembering how much we like it.

The recipe is for 1 cup of Red Bush, it’s hard to buy loose, I eventually found it on Trade Me, would you believe?

Crush up the following spices & mix into the tea:

2 cinnamon sticks

3 tsp cardamom

1 tblsp cloves

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 tsp powdered ginger

4 small chillies

4 star anise

1 tblsp Fennel seeds

Make a pot, then you can adjust the flavour to your taste, remember to note down any changes so you have the recipe for next time.

We’ve had a quiet week in the workroom, but have made up for it by spending time trimming & repotting herbs out by the shadehouse. We’ve also been busy nest building, a chain reaction from the skylights etc. sorting out those dark corners full of ‘stuff’ & getting our storage systems a bit more efficient, still work in progress.

First frost

Well we’ve been caught out by the frost! I have a list of pre-frost jobs written in my diary, & now some of them are obsolete.  My good intentions included taking cuttings of the frost tender Salvias, moving tender plants into the greenhouse & covering the citrus with frost cloth. Hmmm, on the plus side we have harvested the Basil & made it into pesto, harvested the butternut squash & the few chillies that have grown, & moved some of the potted plants under cover.

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Also managed to take some photos of the wonderful Tree Dahlia looking fantastic, it is now a blackened & soggy mess, (see last photo) so we were lucky.

tree-dahlia

Geoff gave me a great book for my birthday, called ‘Herbarium Amoris, Floral Romance’ by Edvard Koinberg. It consists of many exquisite photographs on black backgrounds. Many are close ups of flowers & plants, these are arrayed in sequence according to the floral calender devised by Carl Linnaeus in the 1700s. Linnaeus studied flowers very closely & brought about the ‘sexual revolution’ in plant classification, which was highly controversial at the time. The photos are sumptuous & many include images of decay & deterioration as well as freshness & abundance. I have been inspired to go forth with my camera & record some images in different ways. Anyone who enjoys plant images will love it & I highly recommend you get hold of a copy of this book through the library & check it out.

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Feijoas are everywhere, not least under our 6 trees. It’s been a bumper crop, many large fruit & delicious too. We came across a great website called ‘Feijoafeijoa‘ which has some excellent recipes using the fruit, including curries & salsa. We feed the sheep the small ones, the fence is just close enough that we can hurl them over, & the sheep love them.

bumper-crop spent-cardoon-flower

Yesterday a friend called in, “is business booming?’ she asked, we looked at each other, questioningly, “not really” & optimistically… “we’re going to make our own boom!!” Next minute the phone rings, the Dom Post wants to do an article on us, coming out next monday. Yikes that was quick, we say a short prayer of thanks to the God of small things, or whatever it is that keeps us afloat in the lean times.

Being self employed can be a test of faith, an act of hope & a joy & inspiration. The sense of freedom & flexibility is great. Of course on a bad day it can be all of the reverse, but it doesn’t take much in the small miracle department to fire us up again. Actually, our S.M.D. works pretty well & often in a low patch, when the ins & outs in accounts just won’t comply, someone will email or ring us to tell us how such & such an ointment has changed their lives. Perspectives shift, the sun shines again, the anxiety passes, replaced by a sense of this is where we’re meant to be, all’s right with the world. Haven’t waxed philosophical in ages.

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The Autumn harvest is coming to an end, we have processed loads of chillies, dried herbs, cooked feijoas for the freezer, stored the walnuts in sacks. We have put most of the frost tender plants into the greenhouse, although we haven’t fixed the holes in the plastic yet. There’s still firewood to cut & split, we’re hoping one or both of our boys might help out, they like that job, & we like them liking it (& there’s the spuds to dig).

The veges put in a few weeks ago have flourished in this mild weather , we’ve started eating leeks, especially delicious steamed then add a dash of dijon mustard & a good lot of grated cheese, put on hot toast for a quick lunch, superb.Florence fennel is plump, root veges look ready to eat now, & lots of silverbeet & NZ spinach, spuds & kumara are mostly in the ground still although we rush out & dig as we need them.

I’m hoping to source some pea hay or lucerne for mulching, but it’s pretty expensive at the moment, also some fresh sawdust for the greenhouse floor.We’re looking forward to a good hard frost, then we get to strip out all the tired old leaves & make a big pile of compost. It’s funny how one season leads into the next, the thought of making compost for next springs gardens is very encouraging, perhaps it’s just that we don’t get out enough!!

Pumpkins, Pickles & Peppers

The season of tomatoes & peppers etc is drawing to a close, some are rotting with all this rain, but we have been beavering away making sauces, pickles & jams. It’s a mixed blessing when we get the first frost, both an end & a relief. We’ve been digging up some of the spuds, the Ilam Hardy didn’t do very well but the Agria & Old Blue have cropped OK. Have yet to check out the Kumara.

The pumpkins have done well, the Mini Dumplings are delicious, we’ll definitely grow them next year, also the Butternuts have been prolific (20 pumpkin off one plant!). The rain will probably finish off the Raspberries & figs, they both go mouldy. Still have apples on a couple of trees & plan a cider making session very soon. We have 3 patches of root vege, the first are ready to harvest, the second are growing really fast & the 3rd have just germinated, so hope that will keep us in carrots, beetroot & turnips, Kohlrabi, parsnips, Celeriac & Fennel.

It’s lovely to change diet as the seasons change, going into warm colours & rich stews & curries for the cold nights. We’ve cooked up a big batch of Moussaka which is in the freezer, along with tomatoe sauce for pasta etc & ratatouille, which is a great way to use up all those spare eggplants & zucchini. We’ve picked up sack loads of walnuts & dried them, now it’s sweet chestnuts & feijoas in abundance. Watch this space for recipes next time I write!!

Photos below L-R Seedhead of Japanese Anemone, Pineapple Sage, Root Vegetables, NZ Spinach, Broccoli under netting & Rosehip Syrup.

The Rosehip Syrup is a new recipe I’m trying. It’s very simple, just layer hips (with skins broken) with sugar & leave on a sunny windowsill for 2 months, not sure how this will go, could ferment? will have to wait & see. It will need careful straining when it’s done to remove all the little hairs around the seeds. They can irritate the stomach.

Autumn Tidy Up

With the recent spell of fine weather, we’ve managed to get ahead with the vege garden, which makes a nice change.  The carrots, beetroot & broadbeans have germinated, no sign of parsnips alas. We’ve got loads of self seeded Tat-soi & coriander.  We’ve dug up all the spuds, a smaller crop this year, in part because where we planted them has been quite dry. Still they’ll keep us going for a good while, we just won’t give so many away. We left them on the wheelbarrow in the sun for a couple of days to harden up. Now they are stored in our gardenshed/caravan in cardboard boxes, to keep out the light. Being super efficient we planted blue lupin seeds in the spud patch for the winter.

We planted some kumara in our old salad bed, on a mound. Six plants survived, of the 10 or so we planted & they have produced a great crop. Kumara need gentle handling, & to cure the skins we’ve put them in a heap on the deck, covered with a sack. Soon we shall sort them, eating any that look damaged, & wrap the others in newspaper to store. We’ve kept some of the stalks that didn’t get frosted, & we’re going to experiment with them. We’ll grow them in the greenhouse over winter & see if they’ll produce next year. They look very sturdy, & often the plants we buy are weedy & have hardly any roots.

A couple of frosts has motivated us to get tender plants into the greenhouse, & still on the list is to put up some frost cloth for the young citrus trees. I’ve sown seeds that need winter chilling, or ones I think will benefit from it, including 2 sorts of apple, walnuts, Black Boy peaches & some bulb seeds; Orris Iris, Galtonia candicans & Muscari comosum.

We picked the last of the eggplants & cooked up a big tray of Moussaka, & also made another big pot of Chilli sauce, & there are still more chillies coming, might dry these ones. The feijoas are falling thick & fast & we are eating dozens, & giving them away. Hope to make some room in the freezer so we can tuck some in there for later, they are so delicious.

We bought some chickens that were at the end of their stay in a laying shed, for $1 each. We’re getting one or 2 eggs a day, & they are growing feathers fast, just as well with these cold nights. they’ve adapted surprisingly well & have even moved up the pecking order to harass our older hens. They’re a bunch of Houdinis & we’ve had to rebuild our somewhat rickety fence to keep them in. I do love the noises they make.

Next on the list: get some mulch for the empty patches in the garden, strain the cider & add sugar, & try out a recipe for cider vinegar. Fix the foot valve on our pump so it doesn’t need priming every time we use it,cut up firewood, send some sheep to the butchers( after sorting out the freezer) & mound the leeks & then…

Frost

Well we’ve had our first frost this week, & it was a good one, the garden transforms, many lush plants are now soggy messes waiting to go on the compost.

Luckily we had repaired the holes in the greenhouse, & tucked away our more tender plants, like Lemon Grass, & Kawa Kawa. One of the jobs we haven’t done yet, is to take cuttings of the tender Salvias, luckily they are still alive, the other is to put frost cloth over the citrus, ouch.Our trial Tamarillo has been tipped by frost, but it’s fruit are OK. Talking of fruit, we are having the most amazing season for Feijoas, they are huge, & plentiful. Have managed to freeze quite a few for the winter months, & given away cartloads!

We planted a trial patch of Kumara this year, having had little success up until now. We dug them yesterday, & got a big pile from 10 or so plants, one tuber was as big as a small frozen chicken, weighing in at 1.73 kg. Now we have to decide how to cook it.