Friday, March 26, 2010

Running to Win

It's alright, you can stop worrying. We got out of Milford the day before heavy rain washed out the road and trampers had to be helicoptered off the Routeburn track. And we had two glorious wet days where the side tramps were cancelled and we had to stay in the hut and play cards. Who could ask for anything more?
When we got home and up to my elbows in the sink on catch up, there was this terrible smell. I boiled the dishcloth and teatowels to no avail and was looking into the depths of the pot cupboard, perhaps there was a rotting dead mouse but no, mystery solved. Three jars of rotten tomatoes on the sill were getting a bit high. There's a layer of mould on the top you can just make out and the decomposition breaks down a coating around the seeds that inhibits germination. Next step rinse and count out onto squares of toilet paper, 5 by 5, 25 to a sheet. Come spring I will just cover the whole sheet with potting mix and so it begins again. Most of these are off to the Southern Seed Savers Network, (Otepoti Urban Organics). I need to build up a bit of seed credit.

Autumn has that strange synchronicity: you're both harvesting and preparing to plant again at the same time.

It's very dry, did I mention that our rainfall was 9 inches last year? I think that puts us on a par with desert, officially. Well I've been watering the strawberry runners to encourage them to root, and of course pinching out all but the first plant on each runner. Have double dug a bed with cow manure, for once they are established enough to move, and being forest dwellers at one time, they like pine needles. For both the offspring and the mother plant, the biggest factor in good production next year is thorough watering this autumn. I have noticed that this is also true for a lot of plants and here, it makes the difference between surviving the winter... or not.

Corn is finally ready and was worth the wait. It took about 25 days longer than the packet promised (115 days, not 90 which was probably optimistic). I put that down to growing into the dark side (fading light and heat) instead of into the height of summer. This is speculation not knowledge. I'm digressing because the photo below is not corn at all: florence fennel and I've cut it throught the middle to display the interior going up to seed. Seedlings sat in trays too long before being planted. This is a plant, like celery that likes a lot of water to be sweet and juicy; makes sense. Best way I've ever had it was sliced thinly, raw as a salad with smoked salmon. Short of such grand company, it's a good addition to coleslaw.

Final note. Here's Jude finishing the 2.5 km cross country run around the hills at Paerau. They have to stagger over 2 hay bales as they come up the final straight. There's no one else in the picture because he was so far in the lead, coming in first by a country mile. Running the race, it's a great metaphor for life. Run Jude, run.

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Star of the Week

Johnny decided to do a project on bees for his homework this week. He got two books out of the library, one of them called 'Bees and Wasps'. I fail to see how the two are compatible at all. One makes honey, propolis, pollen and royal jelly amongst other things and fertilises plants. The other kills bees and steals their honey. It's not hard to pick the real friend.
O.K I better back down a bit. As always, nothing is so black and white. There are parasitic wasps that do great things to control white butterfly. Also the common wasp has a carniverous diet for many months which must take care of a few things. It develops a craving for sweetness late in the Summer. That's why they only spoil the picnic towards the end of the holidays.
Anyway, having twisted arms in the past to get a hand down at the apiary on the odd occasion, I was bowled over by the interest and aptitude. He is a boy of surprising talents. Well done Johnny.

Now this morning we had a frost and then by mid-morning there was snow on the Hawkdun ranges and Mt Ida. Temperatures have dropped with a thump. It's hard to believe that only the night before this last one it was so hot I had to sleep with my feet out of the blankets, where they were bitten by the cat who felt I was impinging on her territory.

These are dwarf butterbeans dangling on the wire like chooks, all hung out to dry. The seed went in on the 29th October, when I was making comprehensive notes in the gardening diary. Post Christmas and January draw a blank but it looks like we were eating them by February. That's about 90 days from seed to harvest. I left the rest for seed which is what we can see here.
Now the 2 plants one in from the left have no bun of fluff around their stalks which is the root ball. They had begun to wilt a bit and when I pulled them the stalks were nearly eaten clean through.

I've had bean plants suddenly wilt and die off in the past, especially dwarf beans and just thought it was something they were prone to; perhaps a fungal infection. I don't know why I never thought of the humble grass grub that I know so well. Sure enough, there was a plump one still in the ground. I think they must come in with the compost and they really like beans and lettuce. Nothing else seems to be affected so drastically.

From one small insect to another, whitefly on the courgettes. I had decided from the brown leaves, dried out to a crisp, that the plants didn't like too much full sun. Wrong. They love the heat but it's the whitefly that drains all their nutrients like a vampire. Kay Baxter (Koanga Gardens) says whitefly, at its root is a nutritional problem ie. 'there are some quite common, specific relationships between pests and diseases and certain soil imbalances'. In this case then, excess nitrates in the plant tissue and/or a molybedenum deficiency. Winter would be a good time to research this further and decide what it means for the gardener and what action is required.

It now being Autumn, let's put that aside and admire Bill. Every garden needs one. The sunflowers are inside because the summer was shaping up so lousy and I thought they'd die outside. Corn on the left will be ready in about 2 weeks. Corn outside has come to nought. It did turn out to be a lousy summer. Hopes are high for this crop here.

One of my neighbours has given me some interesting poppy seeds. A big blowsy orange one with the lovely round seed heads and a no less attractive one, en masse, the red Anzac poppy. The gardening magazines say to plant wildflowers in Autumn which may or may not work here but I'll sprinkle the seed about and see what happens. Flowers and colours have never been my forte so I'm actually better not to think too hard about it and just scatter. Could be famous last words...Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The crutch of the matter

Those walking sticks in the basement have finally been put to good use; all four of them. The scene is somewhat reminiscent of a Salvador Dali painting except that here the props have a purpose: the branches are so heavy with plums they'd just about be touching the ground, or breaking. Perhaps I should have thinned them but last year there was no fruit and so I figure the tree owes me all that watering and care. When gardeners turn mean...

This is the prune tree and I managed to get the entire crop into one photo. The third plum is tucked up in the left hand corner. The photo doesn't do justice to the amazing purple that they are. The blossom and fruit are so beautiful that I'm not going to prune it at all so that it can be a showpeice in the front yard. The birds will be pleased to get all the fruit that we can't reach. I figure we can share.

Brace yourself for a sorry sight. Even with the best of intentions some things just don't get done. Basil and dill still in the seedling tray. Yip. Every day I water them but I'm past thinking must get those in. Now I silently apologise and prolong the agony with a good soak because that is easier than doing something about it. At this rate I'll be able to harvest the dill seed before it all goes to the compost heap. How cruel is that?
And finally because the Autumn clean up is actually hard slog, hoeing and digging and trundling away weeds and not nearly enough fun, here's my favourite cover crop: phacelia. The bees really love it and they've had a lean season.

I've been saving alot of seed. Lupin and phacelia for cover crops. All those beans that missed being picked, and collecting in tomatoes from the best plants to see if I can lift the calibre of next years crop. Oh yes, already thinking ahead to bigger and better but on the other hand enjoying all the bottling and freezing and squirrelling away of this year. Keeping busy.