Tag Archive: Diary


One of the paddocks behind our place was recently cut & baled for hay. Since the bales were picked up, we have been amazed to see hundreds of Paradise Ducks arriving every day to feed. Every so often a large group takes off, & just like a scene from a nature doco they wheel & turn, flashing black & white.  Last night with beautiful light, we decided to creep up as close as we could to take some photos. Alas as the first group flew up, the batteries in my camera died, dammit!

Luckily Geoff had his camera & captured some of the action.

Hay HarvestParadise DucksDucks 4

Looking  up info about the Paradise Ducks, I’ve learnt that we have been wrongly assuming that the male is the black & white bird of the pair. Not so, it’s the female. A pair often forms a long term bond & may mate for life, ( although I remember they said that about white swans, then discovered that they were quite promiscuous!!) They are NZ’s only native Shelduck, which is in fact more goosely than duckish.  They are happy on land & in water, & it’s true that they can nest in trees, as well as long grass & hollow logs, where they lay about 9 eggs on average.

Paradise Ducks 1Ducks 2Ducks 3

I was told that they carry their young to the ground on their backs, but I’m not sure about that. At one time these bird numbers were low, as wetlands were drained, but now their numbers have prospered with the clearing of forest into pasture, & the establishing of ponds & dams. Now their numbers need to be controlled.

Known in Maori as Putangitangi, they were a managed food source, being hunted outside of the breeding season, when they were moulting & couldn’t fly.

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.

Christmas & Beyond

We have survived the Christmas season, relatively intact. We avoided shopping in crazy places, & had a great time at Habitat for Humanity, an Op Shop where we spent about $50 & got a load of awesome presents, just perfect for our family & no plastic crap.

The most exciting time was on Saturday 22nd when we were present at the birth of our newest Grandson. What a magic experience, & a timely reminder of birth & renewal. We gaze at this perfect little person & wonder who he is, & try to imagine this time next year when he’ll be all systems go.

Our New GrandsonNapier Beach

Being Grandparents is so much more than either Geoff or I expected, that visceral love for those little people, the revisiting of old stories & games & glimpses of our own childrens’ growing up time. It’s such a gift, & to have time to sit & just hang out together is great, the lack of rush & hurry & stress that parenting often includes.  We do notice that we don’t have the energy we once had, nor the tolerance for noise, luckily we have a choice to take time out, but those loving little cuddles, & funny conversations make it all worth while.

German Chamomile & Calendula FlowersPurple de Jesu ArtichokeDaisy Lawn

Our gardens are an explosion of plants, we’ve never had such rampant growth, the paths are impenetrable, & plants like Valerian officinalis have flowered over 2 metres tall. We have just started to hew our way through the paths, like explorers in a jungle, & bunched various herbs to dry in our garden caravan. This morning I fired up the Alembic Still & made Lemon Balm hydrosol, not sure what to use it for yet, will look it up later.

We’ve dug up all the garlic except the Elephant Garlic & planted some more Courgettes, Galangal & Lemon Grass in the spaces. Geoff & I spend an hour or so each day picking flowers into olive oil, mainly St. John’s Wort, but also Chamomile, Meadowsweet, Calendula & the first few flowers of Arnica & Mullein. These jars will sit in the sun for a month or so before we heat them up, filter & then store in the dark until we are ready to use them. It’s a good feeling to have those jars filling up, as we rely on the seasonal crops for the rest of the year. This process is called maceration.

Mustard Remedy

The days are starting to have a Spring in their step, even if it is a bit erratic. We are starting to reclaim the herb & vege gardens at last. The asparagus patch is looking good, some plants have  half a dozen or more spears showing. Although advice says not to pick any this year, as plants are only 2 years old, we have snaffled a few stalks as a treat. Our Cowslip plants are looking really happy, so we have harvested a few flowers, some into oil & some to dry for herb teas.

Cowslips

Our leeks are just starting to get little flower stalks in their middles, so we are eating as many as we can before they get too tough. Our favourite leek meal is ‘Leeks on Toast’ & I’ll put the recipe up in the Recipe section.

The Rhubarb is powering away, & we have weeded around it, put a load of old horse poo on & then mulched with old hay. Last year the strawberries were not happy, a mixture of wet weather & couch grass. So we have dug all the plants up, & moved their frame to a new spot. Have re-planted the runners & the youngest looking plants with good roots.

We bought some early seed potatoes, which are chitting in our garden caravan. We’re going to plants them in the remains of an old compost heap. We’ve had a few problems with our spuds the last couple of years, so we are trying something new this year.

We planted a lot of mustard as green manure crop where our tomatoes were last year. Further research has revealed that we can chop up the mustard tops & dig them into the soil, esp. where we are putting the spuds. The trick is to chop them up finely, get them into the soil straight away, then firm down & cover if possible. The cut mustard leaves release gases, a bit like eating wasabi, & the gases act to fumigate the soil, killing pathogens & disinfecting the soil. They are reported to act as a fungicide, to curb nematodes &  Potato Blight.

covering the soilDigging in cut mustardcut stalksMustard crop

Our mustard plants are just right now to harvest, as they are starting to flower. So we must get on to it soon. Once the leaves are in the soil, we leave them for 2 weeks before planting our potatoes. Got hold of a couple of bags of Agria seed potatoes today, so will set them out in trays to sprout.

Mud & More Mud

Lake at POukawa

It’s still raining & we are over it! I’ve been having sleepless nights, as I listen to the rain persisting down & fret about the lambs. I should know better, in the morning as I peer blearily out, I see the gang of lambs, somewhat muddy, but obviously fine, as they do that magic thing where they spring, all four legs at once, straight up in the air, like mini ejector seats. Even in the depressing greyness & mud we laugh at their antics. Why do they love even the smallest mound of dirt, leaping up & down like mad things, & just what do they find to gnaw on the gate post?  More curiously, how do these bright, lively creatures turn into sheep?

Speckle's Lambs Speckles being nosey

Geoff & I have both been struck down by the bug that is doing the rounds. It could be flu, both worse than a cold, more debilitating & not so awful in the sneezing, fluid department. Gross anyway, although in a way the weather has been on our side, making the choice to camp in the living room, by the fire, an easy one. If it was fine we’d be tempted to drag ourselves out into the garden.

convalescing

As well as plenty of rest, herb teas, hot soups etc, we were advised to take Blis Throat Guard tablets, & I think they have helped to keep the cough at bay, for me anyway. Geoff didn’t like the taste so wasn’t so diligent at taking them, & his cough is worse than mine. I’m inclined to asthma, & will do anything to keep my lungs happy.

Along with the ‘flu’ & grey & mud, we had some sad news about our lovely dog, Rifkin. She has a lump on her throat, which is a Lymphoma, cancer.  Luckily she is happy & lively at the moment, still keen to play soccer or chase soft toys, but prognosis is not good. We are going to try homeopathics, & lots of love, cross our fingers, pray.

It’s a special time for being with her, she is such a neat dog, with a big smile & a way of getting  so dirty & strewn with debris, you wouldn’t believe it. This of course gets dragged into the house, where we grumble as we sweep it up. No more, I shall be grateful for the dog hair on the carpet, & the twigs & dead leaves. All kind thoughts, most gratefully received. XX

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False Impressions & Floods

Last weekend we managed to get some time in the garden, we have finished planting out the Garlic, & we put in some plants of Thornless Blackberry along one of the fences. We’re gradually creating an area of perennial plants, Raspberries, Rhubarb, Gooseberries, Globe Artichokes & Asparagus. The Asparagus seeds that I sowed 18 months ago are now vigorous plants, & some are already putting up Spring shoots, we’ve weeded around them, mulched the edges of the bed with cardboard & then put compost over the whole lot, I’m very proud of them.

Early garlic Italian Broccoli Leek crop

I was thinking how misleading photos can be, I took pics of the Leeks & Garlic, & the beautiful Italian Broccoli & you might think that we have an immaculate garden!!! Guess what? it’s mostly a shambles, I felt I should fess up so you don’t feel inadequate!

Our creek in floodspot the picnic table

Since our lovely day in the garden it has rained pretty much non-stop, a few leaks have appeared indoors, the water flows through the place, heading downhill to the creek, & the creek turns into a roiling, deep monster, quite unfamiliar, & exciting… so long as it doesn’t get too high. Large logs wash down & heaps of smaller debris which catches on the boundary fence like a beaver dam, eventually the fence collapses, & we prop it up with bits of wood  & baling twine. The good news is that our new paths have passed the test & we can get to our garage & workroom without sloshing through ankle deep mud, & the lawn looks green instead of mud, yay!

brick & concrete path

Pekapeka Swamp

Despite driving past Pekapeka every time we go to Hastings, we had never stopped to have a look around. Finally the impetus came from a friend visiting with her son, who was a very keen & well informed birdwatcher. Not so many years ago the swamp was noticeable because of the smell of rotting vegetation, always prompting accusing looks in the car & ‘who did that?’ Then the willows started to die, & the place looked very dismal.

   

Then interesting things started to happen, grading the area & building a carpark & pull off area, fencing, signage & the planting of many many native plants.  As I understand it,the Regional Council has funded much of the work supported by the Lotteries Board, & no doubt other parties too. Local community groups, such as Forest & Bird & local schools have been responsible for much of the planting, & it is really impressive, & will continue to become a great feature of the land.

State Highway 2 was built straight through the Swamp &  provides one boundary, & the railway lines weaves through it too, always one of my favourite parts of a trip to Wellington by train, now alas not running as a passenger service.  Pekapeka is about 97 hectares in area, owned largely by the Regional Council, according to the guff I’ve found, it is “located in a narrow basin, surrounded by limestone capped hills, forming part of the Poukawa basin & flowing into the Heretaunga Plains.”  Not so long ago, & in some places, still,swamps were used as a dumping area, & rubbish dating from the 1870’s to 1990 has been found. A striking & unsettling reminder of this tendency to dump, has been cleverly incorporated into the site, so that dumped building materials form the old Mayfair & Pacific Hotels is left visible, & hopefully it’s message will be absorbed.

Boardwalk & demolition materials

I wondered about the Raupo, (Bullrushes) that are prevalent in the waters, apparently there is a weir built near the piggery at the northern end, which keeps the water level higher into the Summer months & the Raupo doesn’t like to grow in water over 1 metre deep, for the waters to stay healthy, 50% needs to be clear of plants. Also in the weir is a fish pass, which allows eels & fish to come & go.

The day we went walking we didn’t see many birds, Black Swans, Mallards, Dabchicks & a lone black rooster. We plan to go back with our young bird enthusiast in the Spring when the birds start breeding. Despite the lack of feathered friends we had a great time, looking at the reflections in the water, the plantings, information boards &  especially the boardwalks. It’s wonderful to see such a long term project showing such progress, & saddening that it has taken such a huge effort & foresight to reclaim one of our treasures, & I am aware that there are many other waterways in need of our help.

Drying herbs

It’s lucky we’ve had a run of fine weather, because the herbs I picked some weeks ago, have been languishing in the garden caravan. Over the weekend we had the coalrange going so I brought in the Sweet Marjoram & Coriander, to process.

dried-coriander-marjoram

Generally to dry herbs you pick them on a sunny day, just after the dew has dried. Most leaves are at their prime as their flower buds are forming, Lemon Balm for instance. I like to cut the Marjoram when it’s flowers are at their fullest, because the flowers are balls made up of lots of small leaflets. These give a good bulk of herb. Sweet Marjoram is one of our favourite cooking herbs, & one we try to dry every Autumn. Here in Hawkes Bay the plants don’t usually survive the Winter.

I spread the cut stems out on cardboard trays, all facing the same way. These go into the caravan, which is warm, dry & dimly lit. Once the stems are pretty much dry I finish them off in the bottom of the coalrange oven, or on very low in the electric oven, or in the dehydrator, although this is very messy. Once crisp I rub the stems through my fingers to take the leaves & flowers off. A fair amount of debris comes too. I pick out the worst of the stalks, then rub the leaves through a large sieve. This gives a good consistency for cooking with. Store in an airtight container in the pantry, out of the light. This method works for most small leafy herbs like Thyme, Savory, Sage etc. Herbs for making teas don’t need to be so finely broken up, once crisply dried, so can be simply stripped off of their stems, crunched up to compact for storage & stored away. If you don’t have a warm, shady place to dry things, you can put them in paper bags & hang up somewhere indoors, don’t cram too much in a bag, the air needs to circulate.

The Coriander seeds were a lot more bulky.On a fine day, I cut the stalks & laid them on a clean sheet, in a basket. I sat these indoors for a couple of days to dry out properly. Once dry I scrunched the seed heads inside the sheet to free them from the stalks. This left a mess of seeds, stalks & fine leaves. These went into the sieve, the leaf matter rubbed through the mesh, & the stems gathered at one side as I shook it. Again store in an airtight container out of the light.  This method works for Fennel, Caraway & seeds on stems you may want to dry for planting. Don’t forget to label them & put a date on.

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.