Friday, November 25, 2011

Going Home

Leaving a community is a bit like mopping the kitchen floor, where you walk out of the room backwards mopping up your footsteps as you go until no trace is left that you were there. The house will be repainted and a new family will move in. Life moves on.
One of the things I've enjoyed in the garden is growing great weeds: phacelia and calendula in the glass house below, borage not flowering yet and red poppies in the background.

Here's a closer look at the poppies growing on the path. I'll leave these traces of joy but around the house it's time to erase, to return everything back to woodchips and trees that can be easily managed with a lawnmower and poison spray.

One thing will last a little bit longer: fabulous soil that absorbs moisture instead of repelling the rain and for a few seasons, wild flowers will try and establish themselves. Oh yes and it will take a lot to remove the comfrey. The poppies below are a snag in my timetable because they are just about to flower. These are great big blue ones that a favourite neighbour gave me seed for and this is the first year they are growing in quantity. I will pull them out at the last minute.

I pulled the comfrey out easily in Spring when it was crowding the trees and just threw it down as a nutritious mulch. If you like it, it is very easily dealt to and useful but if you don't like it, well ...
I've been reading a marvellous book Finding the Still Point by Gerald O'Mahony. One of the things he talks about is finding a motto that encapsulates what we want to be. I'm working on mine and I suspect it will have something to do with food. I even like my garden to be well fed.

Now the frost did damage some of the tomatoes and more spectacularly the potatoes; compare plants on left in the warmer mid section of the glasshouse to the end rows. This will reflect in yield and timing too I expect.

I had a little experiment going with the raspberries with pruning and sure enough these will fruit for Summer instead of Autumn this year. I later read that you can prune half your raspberries in Autumn and half in Summer (after fruiting) if you want to stagger the crop but here it is too cold too quickly for Autumn fruiting berries.

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I am endeavouring to delegate some packing and have a couple of unsuspecting neices arriving the week before the moving truck does. I have singled out some of the more exciting jobs for them, collecting pine cones to fill the shed and hosing down the house and windows among others.  The outside of houses, in this climate, need a good scrub down every few years or five,  which was a housekeeping revelation to me that I intend them to act on. On with the rubber gloves then...  

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Unfamiliar Text

NCEA exams are no longer on the horizon. They are coming into shore on a speed boat and boys are busy getting in final assignments, applications and folios.
They didn't do so well in unfamiliar texts for English so we are going to have some practice together over the next week. We all 'see' according to our level of expertise but there must be some broad rules that apply to most things. For the person who covered one of my compost heaps with red hot poker debris, blue gum leaves, rose prunings, couch and what looked like Pyracantha prunings-branches with spiny thorns my advice would be: 'look at the end result or the big picture' or to put it another way, 'What is the purpose?'
In a compost bin you are looking to make compost.

For the person who tipped buckets of food scraps on top of another tarpaulin covered heap I would suggest 'Look for a pattern'. If there is a heap amongst the five that has fresh food debris on top, go for the obvious and follow suit. Like with like.
Compost has been a very gratifying success this year. Thanks to the briars and thorns keeping me out I still had a beautiful stash for the glasshouse come tomato time. It has hitherto missed out and the compost has made a big difference to watering times, about every five days instead of everyother day at this time of year. The compost piles I made on site in the glasshouse in late winter were a cinch to spread out as a thick if rough, mulch. The wheelbarrow can take a holiday; on-site heaps are the way to go.

Now you can see below how the plants are thriving  in this mulch. We had a frost or two recently that has clipped the wings of about half the potatoes in the next glasshouse but tomatoes don't seem to have suffered. I was gifted various trays of seedlings of which I've used about 80. By the time I got them the labels were gone and I know one tray were sweet 100's. So much for my strictly moneymaker and beefsteak. All will be revealed in time.

On the first read through the text we'll be underlining literary devices and any sort of patterning; garden equivalent would be my sorting out the plants from the weeds which is what I'm doing in Dunedin to rescue any treasures that have survived. 

Louis had to create something out of a complete sheet of paper for his design application.
It's a viewing box where you look through the peephole, through a set of bars to see 'Freedom' in the distance. He suggested it was something some fellow students might like to use to get a preview of their future if they didn't make some lifestyle changes. We knew living in the country would give them a different perspective on life... I don't know what we thought it would be. I choose freedom.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cow Cola

Brace yourself for a slew of 'before and afters'. It's enormously satisfying to get such apparent results and immediate garden. I guess TV programmes are made out of this sort of thing. I'm working on the patch of long grass in the middleground. The tree to the left is an annoying self sown sycamore that is cleft between concrete. It has to go but how? not quite sure as I can't get a saw in to the base. I cut down the long grass and dug out the roots in clumps. It's the hard way to garden. Planted globe artichokes and mulched with clipped up grass.

 There is a bank above this patch so it collects a reasonable run-off of water. Artichokes like water and shelter. One out of two is only half bad.  These will be sacrificial as a shelter belt; they are going to protect the vegetable garden.

It took me quite awhile to separate out the grass clumps, chopping them up as I went until the bin was nicely full. There is a name for this, something like 'kinetic meditation' where you idly can do a job while your thoughts run free.
This project of renovation is reminding me of one of my favourite books 'The Secret Garden' where the garden starts to come alive in the Spring as she (Elizabeth?) clears away the overgrowth.
When our children were younger and we chose storybooks I always looked for a great text and Bill picked them by illustrations. A really good illustrator would plant secrets, extrapolate information from the text to enrich the story for the keen observer. I suddenly remembered Sleeping Beauty. From memory the whole kingdom sleeps for a hundred years and one of the versions we had showed flowers blooming and brambles and thorns peeling back as the Princess awoke. The gardener in me must have noticed those details and leapt with delight.  As Ken might say, I speak fluent garden and anything is fair game for the topic.

Now the bucket in front above is loosely manure tea, a big dollop of fresh cow manure that I kept refilling and stirring and decanting onto the heap as an activator. If it was fizzy and in bottles you would be banning it immediately, just the smell would strip the enamel of small children's teeth and coins would dissolve in it overnight: Cow Cola. I'm expecting some heat from this pile.

I'm finding lots of treasures still alive amongst the weeds in the herbaceous area. Other finds, see pegs below and what you can't see is two buckets of plastic rubbish, yoghurt pottles, foil, bread ties, an amazing amount of non biodegradable stuff.
Last photo I've put the blackcurrant, gooseberry bushes and rhubarb along this strip up against the bank where they'll get some shade but also extra moisture. The strawberries in front will get the extra sun. Sometimes the theory can be perfect but incomplete. Having some good reasons to make decisions is a good place to start.  And this might be a good place to finish...

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Two Timing

You know what the problem is, it's 'The Other Garden'; here is a small corner and there is another 1000 square metres or so in similar state. In fact, it couldn't be better as I feel like I'm getting a clean slate to work on.
By far the most interesting part of our move to the city is moving the garden and the juggle I'm in of establishing the garden for the season here whilst looking ahead to there, and not wanting to be without vegetables.
The garden is derelict and fortunately the house is empty so I can go in every few weeks and make a start. This is part of the old glasshouse so it is a concrete bounded bed and as far as I know it is free of wireworm.

The obvious thing seemed to be potatoes and the long grass suggests reasonable fertility so away we go. I cut it down with shears and then layered newspaper, potatoes, dirt stuff and grass clippings on top. Loosely one of those sandwhich gardens; I didn't have long and also didn't fancy digging out great hunks of grass with it's capacity to carry away your topsoil.
For your interest, our neighbour is a bowler as the lawns in the distance attest. We've always got on so well that neither of us has wanted to put in a fence. The boundary line is defined as where the lawn (theirs) becomes field (ours). He sometimes crosses over and mows our grass as well. Who couldn't love a neighbour like that.

Dirt 'stuff' was the contents of the compost bin. Not exactly compost, dry and crumbly; maybe five years of grass clippings. Shearing back the grass was the hardest part so I did it in stages. In the end I ran out of seed potatoes and left the area where the bin was clear. I have broad beans in pots to put in that space. I expect them both to grow at about the same pace.

Loading up the trailer. Boxes of compost, cuttings and divisions and the young quince tree.

Now I didn't mean to load this photo but Noodle will never see it. He was indignant, 'No Mum, not in the floral pinny'. I was capturing the phone call while cooking. This is classic teenage boy cook style where cooking tea also means you can have a phone conversation, take off and check your emails or try and shoot a few hoops while the potatoes are boiling dry. The current goal is a meal on the table in a timely fashion. Frills will have to come later unless they are on the apron. Chortle.   
 Tomatoes have been hit by slugs. I've supplemented my seedlings with selfsown replacements so there will be a surprise or two after all! Possibly Black Krim (good) and Blackjack (not so useful for others here). This year I tried to do mainstream but it doesn't come naturally.  Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Looking ahead

Spring has Sprung
The grass has ris
I wonder where the mower is

Definitely that time of year when gardeners' fingers begin to tingle with anticipation. The classic mistake in this climate is to whip out in some small weather hiatus and put stuff in that won't make the next cold snap, like seeds.  Having the very large glasshouse at my disposal is a rare luxury and gives me a toasty conservatory environment to play in and jumpstart the planting. The down side is the lack of the very weather you are keeping out. No rain to water and freshen, no variety of plant life and animals: slugs, birds and whitefly overwintering on the parsely  and I will miss it when we move.

Last week I planted the new potatoes for Christmas: Red King as always. I quickly found that it was quickest of all to spend a bit of time measuring and placing the potatoes carefully. Then it becomes a no-think factory-line-burial-programme without that 2cnd guessing over spacing. Because of the very wet season this year, and the subsequent late and frost damaged harvest, muddy to boot, the remaining potatoes haven't stored so well. It is an important job at this time of year to sort the seed potatoes from the pigs' dinners and perhaps a little later to dust the table potatoes with anti sprout powder for use through to December.
No one was more pleased than I was to see Jocylyn and David pull up in the house bus and report for potato duty in their overalls.
Job now done done with all the rotten potatoes out, so come time to cook tea you can put your hand in the sack with impunity.  Thank you, thankyou, thankyou.  They put aside 50 sacks of 20kg each of the small neatly formed seed potatoes. These won't jam in the planting tube as they rocket down into the ground and are for next years main crop.
Because there were less potatoes, that left a motley crew for me including what I call potato clowns:  the ducks, the snowmen, the love hearts, the lumpy bumpy misshapen, knobbed and larger ones. It will be really interesting to see what this years new potato crop is like.
I've covered the beds with black plastic to warm up, usually this is just for overnight frost protection but this year it will warm the beds up sooner. Farmer David has a wonderful intuitive knowledge for growing things and there will be reasons for this decision that I have yet to uncover.

Now I cleaned up this particular pile of sticks  and it is now a nicely tucked in compost heap as it should have been to begin with.   Embarrassing really. What did I think was going to happen over the winter?... because it sure didn't. The sunflower stalks are now snapped in to foot lengths and sandwhiched with a weed selection and  some cow muck; still waiting on a soak with the hose but it is too cold to have the water supply on at this spot just yet.

Here's the brag parsnip photo. Variey is Caversham from the Otepoti Seed Savers Network. Caversham now is typically a lower income area in Dunedin, but one with a rich history, rather nice siting for the sun in some places, close to everything and my impression is it still has a strong community.
There is a way to say it, 'Caversham' with the emphasis on the last syllable to make it sound a bit posher, if you are being silly.  Very appropriate for this lovely workhorse vegetable  to come from such a humble unpretentious background and to be a culinary star nonetheless. No hard core at all. They melt. The only reason I had to crop the photo was that the oven was so dirty in thebackground. I have overplanted on the lettuce front again. The seed went in before the big snow and I thought I had lost it. I had the punnets covered with frost cloth  which I've now moved to cover the emerging mesclun. I'm sure it helped.
Planted the tomatoes, a conservative trio of money maker, beefsteak and grosse lisse. Hope to have something to show for it soon.
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Monday, August 15, 2011

The north wind doth blow...

And we shall have snow
And what will poor robin do then, poor thing?
He'll sit in a barn and keep himself warm
And hide his head under his wing, poor thing.

Poor old birds don't seem to know what to do. Finches and sparrows are out gleaning the long grass for seed. I planted seed myself last week, mesclun, broad beans and lettuce and brassicca types. The glasshouse is zero degrees at the minute and outside, according to the radio it is climbing towards the high of 3 today (1.8). I went down to pick some celery for soup and checked the seed beds while I was there. No evidence of germination yet...or of celery for that matter.

I shouldn't think the snow would normally come in to this degree, except that it isn't normal snow. It's dry and powdery. The wind blows it in through the gaps.
I had the pleasure of Heather's company for four days last week and of equal worth her help in the glasshouses. We weeded, cleaned, watered and mucked with cow manure for the tomatoes. Built 5 large heaps directly on the beds with all the debris: corn stalks, bean wires, vines - there's the word, a good variety of weeds. The heap that is still warm today had blood and bone throughout which seems to have upped the temperature. Interesting.

I marvelled a bit how people seemed to get caught out with the weather, given the warning and all, but quickly realised my own preparations were lacking. Hand tools on tray turned out to be inadequately protected (above) oops, and wish I had dug a few more carrots and snips and fetched a new potato bag. Car isn't going anywhere today.

Kids were going to build an igloo, that is an 'ig' with toilet facilities. Bewilderment. 'Oh, a joke,' they said. Small laugh. Snow was too dry to pack in the boxes so they tunnelled out caves in the drifts.
By the time the snow is over I will be ready for it. Swiss M had a Swiss saying taped to the inside of her cleaning cupboard:  'Don't try to sweep up the snow while it is still snowing'. What it meant was, kids have to be allowed to play first. Don't try and clean up too soon. Not something I have ever been accused of but I take the point to heart of enjoying it while it lasts.
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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Irrelevent Threads

The observant eye will be able to tell that Louis is home by the mate cup (inscribed Buenos Aires) that has jostled for and won a place at the coffee station.
The special mate straw is sticking out, metal with filters in the bottom to keep out the tea leaves. It's a small thing but I do look back fondly on the paper straws that you sucked to death and threw on the fire instead of throw away plastic.

Not much happening in the garden: turned and watered a compost heap, gathered and spread pine needles around the hazelnuts, got gardening books out of the library.
That's a whole red cabbage in the colander, in shreds by the time I thought to take a photo. It was a miserable specimen but they stand well in the garden; peel off the manky outer leaves and it cooked up great with grated apple and some butter.
Cabbage is one of the standout home grown vegetables, if you needed to be persuaded. It is just so delicious fresh and so ordinary if it's not. I expect I have said that at one time about every vegetable I have ever grown.

Here's my raspberry experiment: the twigs in front of the fence. I pruned these at the wrong time of year to fit them in the car and that's when the trouble began.  After that I noticed they were Autumn fruiting which doesn't suit. They don't ripen in our brief Autumn sunshine. I'm going to cut them to the ground in January and see whether the new shoots fruit early the following year (January) or if they grow slowly through to Autumn fruiting.

Wax eyes feeding on the fat below. This is a photo from about this time last year.
I've actually spent the holidays making puddings but didn't photograph any. The boys have each stepped up to their cooking nights (with degrees of assistance) so that leaves me to make pudding and explore my current favourite, the 1965 WDFF (Women's Division of Federated Farmers) Cookery Book. It is unfortunate that the names were not attributed to the recipes because some of these ladies were awesome. There's one voice stands out in particular. Here's her introduction to Peter Pan Pudding and don't you just want to try it:
When something just a little light and luxurious is required for a sweet, nothing could be more fitting than Peter Pan Pudding. It is as light as a cloud, not cloyingly sweet, but utterly delicous.
. That woman is a mind reader. 

Posted by PicasaPerhaps I have said before that worms also like a little fat in their diet so it is okay to put some in the compost heap. On that note, off to put a little fat in our diet and document some winter puddings.  

Saturday, July 9, 2011


If I had to pick out a movie to define this stage of my life, the one that resonates in my mind is Babettes Feast. It's not the concept of spending my inheritance on a meal, although when you're doing a big shop it can seem like that sometimes, it's the image of Babette out there picking thyme and wild herbs to make her soups; wind is howling around her and she is wrapped up in many layers.
Fresh out of the garden is all very well; however, in winter I have to put my gumboots and jacket on and go on an expedition in the darkening cold to dig out parsnips carrots and leeks so I try and get a weeks worth of those at a time.

Bob's beans above turned out to be as beautiful as their pod. I left them too long on the vine and it was uncharacteristically damp so quite a few had a 'white bloom'. I didn't keep those for eating. That's not like me  but I was thinking of the rye moulds in the middle ages that drove the peasants insane and the jam moulds that are probably bad for you. It was a fierce struggle against my genetic inheritance to err on the side of caution.
Home grown beans are different to bought. Possibly because they are so fresh, don't take much cooking, not as starchy, they almost melt: Beef and Bean Chilli. Beans gone. 

Finally on the last leg of turning over the beds in glasshouse one. I'm building a compost heap on site rather that cart everything out there and back here later. Here it is going up. I'm gambling on being able to spread it by November as a mulch on this lucky bed (albeit in a rough state). Compost normally takes a year here. The tomato debris is off to the dump but all other weeds , wood chips, straw, layers of nettles conveniently growing nearby and sloshes of liquid comfrey on hand, all that has gone on sandwhich style. I've covered the heap with black plastic hoping for some solar advantage. It has warmed up. I didn't add any animal manure which would give me a hotter heap. I imagine this will be colder and slower.

Now it was a week of high drama on the roads. Only a dusting of snow and the road looks deceptively clear. There are alot of big trucks come through Highway 85 especially through the night and they compressed the snow to a layer of ice. Bill got stuck on the Pigroot coming home. There is no cellphone reception through that stretch and we had a power cut at home so nobody could ring.  We went out in the truck and  found him around midnight with six other cars in a cluster and pushed him out. There was an Irish fellow putting chains on nearby who said the roads were 'mischief'. Something about that word has you imagining small mythical creatures spreading danger out like sand. They closed the road through to midday Friday and everybody just drove around the barrier.
As it happened, the next day so did we.

 From memory, Babettes Feast is set in a remote religious community and their inability to acknowledge her beautiful food is just part of a big story; no comparison implied here! However, this is a teetotal community and the meal voucher I won to Riverstone Cafe was for a three course menu complete with wine matches. It was all the better for the novelty.  We were booked in for Friday and would just about have walked through the pigroot and carried the car if neccessary.
Final photo is the last peice of cheese. Swiss M made it before she left. I could see it wasn't quite right but haven't made any for so long was unsure where the problem lay. In hindsight I think there was too much whey left in and the cheese 'turned' pretty fast. Cheese moulds don't scare me one bit and although there were ammonia notes, nothing was wasted. Genetic inheritance includes a robust digestive system.
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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Man Food

I was using up some kidney beans for tea tonight and imagined making some kind of beany stew, lots of cubed vegetables, a few spices and so on. Fortunately, I have a good memory, a practiced 'reality checker' and a testosterone charged household behind me. I could see the inevitable follow on, a large dish of leftovers in the fridge that nobody would eat for a second time or a first; and it would eventually grow mould and be thrown out when the fridge began to smell enough to warrant the search.
What is top of the vege stakes at the minute, with 100% take-up is Kale. Be surprised because it is not a result of good parenting, just pure inclination.

What interests me are these little buds in the Kale 'armpits'. I haven't grown this green Kale before to know how it will end,  but they remind me of brussel sprouts. I was out of sync this year with everything; the winter stuff went in early and so did the Spring greens which are now nearly over so perhaps it is preparing to go to seed.
For my autumn clean-up around the fruit trees I chopped up the weeds and trimmings as mulch and banked them around the artichokes in particular. It felt like a good permaculture principle, saving my energy, and I expect it to both harbour slugs(bad) and keep off some of the effects of the frosts (good). Perhaps in spring I will need to rake it back to allow the ground to heat up and the birds in.

Moving along, the star of this photo is my new toy, the 3rd hand magimix off Trade Me. Cuisinart promise that their blades never need sharpening. It's true. Everything these days is getting chopped parsely because the blade chops things finely instead of bludgeoning them into a pulverised mess. The frosts are still only namby pamby, no ice on the window, frozen latches, frozen washing or lack of cold water in shower, and so I am still bringing in tomatoes to ripen in the hallway. These ones about to be baked with crumb topping, crumbs, tasty cheese, garlic, parsely and a little anchovy.
The beds in the tomato house are rock-hard for digging and watering hasn't really helped. If it was only me, and only a small space, I would experiment with swapping the tomatoes with the potatoes because potatoes leave the soil in beautiful condition. I know they are of the same family and disease prone, well you don't want to even whisper 'disease' in the vicinity but as I'm sure I've said before, Dirt Doctor in Kakanui follows one with the other with beautiful results (we have a strict segregation policy with each to their own house). Of course, just like children fighting, there is always a lot more to the story. The potato house here has not fared so well with the glass and is probably too cold for tomatoes now.

It's not a cast sheep, it's napping. They all were. Sheep and cows seem to like doing the same things together. They all gallop, they all eat, they all bleat, they all throw themselves down on the ground and take naps, all at the same time. It's sort of a collective Borg-like consciousness.


In case anybody was wondering, I made a Rose Elliot recipe with the beans. It included pasta and a tomato sauce and  had a delicious crumb/cheese topping. It was supposed to include lentils but I had a bit of leftover dhal (fridge clean out not fridge alert) which successfully blended without anybody noticing. Everybody ate it.
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