Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Imposter Syndrome

It seems to me that men often define themselves by their paid jobs. 'I'm a ...whatever'. But I haven't always been in paid employment and I'm not always doing anything that I've trained for and I'm definitely not earning money. So what am I?
I also think that women often won't define themselves by what they do if they haven't formally studied it, got the certificate etc, hence 'I'm not really a chef, gardener, whatever, it's just what I do.'
The thing is we've had 30 mls of rain today and yesterday was drizzle and cold and I've been inside and in town shopping and the world of gardening suddenly seems so remote and I've been wearing other hats. Never mind. Gardening lives on in deep recesses of the mind.

I rewarded myself with the first cabbage this week now that the broccolli has finished. I bought plants and put them in at the beginning of February. I've been listening to them while I squash caterpillars: the cabbage whisperer. They make a kind of crispy squeaking sound that tells you how fresh they are and that they have had enough water. The large caterpillar bodies turn black and go mouldy and I'm interested to see whether that taints the growing cabbage. I've squashed enough to confidently make a few observations and suggestions.
1. Always check both sides of the cabbage leaf. You can hold the outer leaves up against the light and see the bodies silhouetted through of those in hiding underneath.
2. For anybody who has seen the movie I Robot, like the seemingly inanimate robots who for no explained reason, cluster together for company, so too caterpillars of all ages are often clustered together in a group rather than evenly dispersed.
3. I suspect it would have been a very good idea to flick the bigger bodies off.

Fresh cabbage has joined my list of vegetables that are unbelieveably better home grown.

A few good frosts last week and I flew into action and dug the yams. They have had 6 months in the ground, albeit without a lot of attention but it didn't seem like a particularly good return. Many of them are quite small and some were sort of flattened in the way that vegetables grown in hard dry soil can be. The crate weighed in at around 28kg with this load, say the crate is about 3 kg, and the original seed was 1kg of seconds. It's like one of those maths questions, the train is travelling at 40 kms per hour, the car is travelling at 30 and so on. The answer to this question however is not 25kg yield. The answer is don't use little tiny yams for seed. Unlike potatoes I suspect you need to plant what you want to get.

The next thing was garlic. Let me talk you through the photo. White dust on the ground is lime because I also planted broad beans which need lime so everybody got some. The board is for standing on while I plant. It firms the soil down evenly and is a handy measure for row width. There is a little wooden handle on the left that drills the 4 inch hole. The garlic cloves in the bucket have been soaked 24 hours in cow manure tea and already have root buds at the base. Now apparently garlic likes to put out roots before the worst of winter, a few months dormancy in the cold, even though there may be green stalks through and then away in the Spring. The best information by far is at www.gourmetgarlicgardens.com and I have their handy print out in my diary. What they don't tell you is that if the garlic gets too much water late in the season, all the outer cloves replicate and you get a large looking bulb that is full of tiny cloves. I'm hoping to avoid this this year and escape a trifecta.

Four seasons lettuce in the bird protection unit, which will come away in Spring. A VERY SILLY BIRD has been pulling up my emergent onions so I will have to plant them again. That's a third time because the first seed didn't come up at all. Onion seed is like parsnip and needs to be fresh to germinate.
When the rain stops we will rake leaves Mum and I. Pull out Robert Frost,
Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

End of the Golden Weather

I had already emailed a tree nursery enquiring about heritage apples suitable for this climate when I remembered the old tree up above the swimming pool. Every year, come frosts, come drought it is covered with bright red apples. I had been told they weren't worth bothering about and it occurred to me that it may be a cooking apple. Yes it is and a jolly good one too. Picked a bucket of apples and stewed them, bottled them, and remembering Jen's apple jelly, made jelly with the skins and cores. How thrifty is that? Sophie would be absolutely proud of me (Destitute Gourmet). The final test, made an apple pudding for tea which proved their suitability.

Here's one that got missed below, good colour and good size but the flesh is very dense suggesting not enough water. No surprises there.

There are old concrete bearers on the ground behind the tree suggesting that there has been a small dwelling there at some point. Went back to get a photo of the tree and found another one beside it that I have never noticed before. A smaller tree in fairly poor condition sporting one delicious apple. Call me Eve; I photographed it before I ate it. Have never seen one like it before but we all agreed it tasted great; shared it. Open Orchard Project down in Riverton (that's Robert Guyton) runs grafting workshops where you can graft your heritage tree cuttings onto new rootstock. I can see a week-end away coming up for me at some stage. I expect they may be able to identify the varieties also, given enough information. Shame I've already eaten the only specimen.

Meanwhile back in the glasshouse...I have covered the lemon trees in the middle with frost cloth. The frocks are pinned on with clothes pegs and already branches are wriggling out from underneath. This is the make or break year-deliver the goods or go. To their credit they are covered in lemons (green) and it's on the strength of this that they are getting such care. Looking forward to those lemons you lot.

I hate it when people ask for advice and then promptly disregard it but I had to in this instance. The advice was spread wood chips and quality compost over and fork in lightly. Well I haven't got any compost, good, bad or indifferent so on went the woodchips, pony poo as available, a sprinkle of blood and bone and contrary to anything I may have said before, I sowed lupins.

If you've ever watched Location Location Location on a Saturday night, the clients give the real estate agent a list of what they want and then buy something quite different. For my part, I was going to sow black oats, but when I went to find the netting to keep the birds off, it was buried beneath and behind building bits and peices. Birds don't eat lupin seed, plan A out the window, enter plan B. How easily carefully thought out plans are discarded for convenience.

The soil is looking all the better for it and I suddenly remembered that I've always had a feel for good soil. Even when we were little making mud pies we (you know who 'we' is Marg) knew that parts of the garden had much better dirt for baking, and that an egg or two (who's idea was it?)made a glossy smooth mixture. Cooking and gardening go so naturally hand in hand.

Beyond that I've been on caterpillar patrol all week. There are only nine cabbages but I planted them all together and created, in hindsight, a white butterfly brassica buffet. Still finding more caterpillars every day. Nine cabbages will be plenty because there's only one family will have the nerve to eat them . A final shot of the garden; it's a 'before' shot. As I said to Bill, call me Rolf Harris. No not singing kangaroo songs; in a few weeks, with a few deft final strokes it will all come together and suddenly everbody will see what has been in my mind's eye all along. An ordered garden bedded down for the winter. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Icarus Flies

With Mama here, washing and ironing and tending my flower garden, all sorts of possibilities seem to be tantalisingly in reach and I have found myself compiling lists of all I want to achieve in the weeks she is here. I know I'm stretching too far. Even here with En Hakkore's measured pace, life is often busy enough and garden tasks take a back seat. But I plan and scheme and fly and maybe the wax won't melt and I'll reach my impossible goals. Maybe.

I was just wondering last week if a week might ever come where there was nothing new in the garden. Not yet: buried treasure. Dug up the two Maori Potatoes and netted 4kg from the pair of parents; that's a good return. One of them I washed for the foto; that's what they were like in the soil, gleaming purple and quite hard to distinguish from the earth.
In the week since, I have acquired glasses so maybe they are not normally so difficult to find.

So I was on a roll and feeling optimistic enough to pull up a yam and see if there was anything below: 665g of anything it turns out, most of them tiny. You can see the burnt off foliage with a few little clover like yam leaves near the crown. They were all still attached by their umbilical cords which made me hope that if I leave them a bit longer, there may be a weight gain. Not the sort of thing that anyone is normally hoping for.

With the ease in the schedule that Mama's industrious toil has created for me, I took a few minutes out to do a job that I've been meaning to get around to. Cut back the mint and surprisingly, weed it. It takes a pretty brave weed to try and outdo mint but clover was one of them and I think the other was grass. It escapes me for the minute. The mint has been nicely contained by the corrugated iron if I haven't shown it before.

Quietly behind the scenes the ongoing task is glasshouse prepaaration. Dirtdoctor (http://www.dirtdoctor.co.nz/) suggest adding woodchips to this particular soil for humic acid and humus to revitalise it. Yes, that is on the list.

I felt that I had picked my Bon Chretian pears too early and left these till in the end they all dropped off the tree safely into the comfrey below. It cushioned their fall and hid them from the birds who have left a number of cores hanging on the tree. This is the whole crop by the way. The name that springs to mind is Beurre de Bosc whether rightly or wrongly. They're never very big and I wonder if this tree was chosen primarily as a pollinator. Both trees are still young but look to be dwarf rootstock. Even dwarf pear trees may come into their own as they mature. Don't we all.
I took the opportunity to buy myself a few things for Mother's day to supplement the cards and breakfast in bed etc. One of my brain waves was to order 3 gooseberry bushes from Sutherlands Nursery in Waitati which will be waiting on the verandah for me to collect in August. A vague thought, what will I actually do with the gooseberries?, but no, push that aside. Clearly I have been reading English gardening books and the English love gooseberries. I will too.

My other present a book by Richard Langston, The Trouble Lamp.

I will close with the image of Athene and hope to imitate her in my achievements this week.


by Richard Langston

Some winged Athene on a racing cycle

glides to a halt at the traffic lights:

shades, helmet, hair tucked-in for speed.

Those limber athletic legs

ending in a professional click into the pedals.

'Lovely morning,' she says,

fast-disappearing over the brow of the hill.

The sedate mid-life plodder

left to consider other options.

The bus perhaps.

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Happy Tiredness

The great potato heist last week and I forgot to even mention it. Normally we do potatoes in the school holidays so as to have every available pair of hands on deck, age no matter. It takes 3 or 4 days of hard slog. Somebody normally puts on morning or afternoon tea and off we all go in the trailer on the back of the tractor. It keeps everybody together and helps keep the impetus up. I always associate it with the holidays and that holiday feel of happy tiredness.

This year for various reasons we had a stupendous harvest, which as the potato inner circle grows, is a good thing but the prospect of digging, scrabbling, sorting, bagging loomed large. Enter the potato digger, thus, which was pulled out of Margaret's garden where it had done 20 years as a garden feature; some fine tuning; we'll never look back. I felt like the tailor on Fidder on the Roof who gets a sewing machine after a life time of stitching by hand and the whole village crowds round to marvel at it. It was marvellous alright and the whole job done in less than two days. So quickly in fact that I didn't get photos really.
Now I've had NZ spinach in the glasshouse for two years now, self sown this year, and never used it beyond a casual nibble on site as I water the glasshouse. It's the one spinach that you can eat raw with impunity so that ought to recommend it. I've always considered it to be the canary in the mine shaft. It's frost tender and so when the glasshouse begins to freeze it's the first thing to go and tells me that winter is effectively upon us.

Well thanks for the reminder Christy and I made those fetta and spinach muffins out of the paper last week (for suscribers of the ODT). It created one of those moments when Bill could happily say: 'I married a chef'.
It has been a week in the glasshouse. Digging over the tomato beds one by one, one a day to keep the job manageable. I straighten up after a good workout and consider that once again, the gym room remains unused. I've had my session for the day and I know it. Now tomatoes are narcissistic; they like themselves, their own company and their own compost, made of them. The main thing is to take good note of which bin they are going into so that it goes back to them next year, even as a rough mulch.
The ground has had nothing done to it for a long time and is in a sorry state. The clods break open to reveal worms coiled up into a tangled ball, hibernating amidst drought and barrenness. I'm covering each bed with pony poo and will sow oats here too. The masterplan (gardeners always have master plans that stretch out into the distance, bigger and better) is to use broad beans next year for the winter cover crop because they are an excellent soil conditioner and dug into the ground, they destroy the bacteria that cause tomato wilt. Yes, you read it here.
This year I'm growing the broad beans to get truck loads of seed.

The birds this year are very hungry and I'm going to have to start netting. There were no Rowan berries, because of late frosts, and they have eaten all my peas up, not one sprout and are ravaging the oats both seed and seedlings. Could they not pick caterpillars off the cabbages? (No, gobbling up my seedlings, here the four seasons lettuce.) One disadvantage of a proprietary pest kill spray is that when you run out, the pests reappear with a vengeance and if I'm not quick there will be no cabbage left to eat. I can hear the sighs of disappointment, mine are genuine.

I have to put in a photo of the romanesco broccolli, on the right. She's the cover girl of the vegetable world. Looking up her records I see the seed was planted on the 1st of December and the photo, just about the 1st of May, 5 months old. It is well worth noting that this is by far the best of eight, and same thing happened last time I grew them: one really good one and the rest stragglers. They ought to prove a good indicator crop of soil fertility and gardening prowess so I can only aim for a better tally and keep growing them. Until next week then...