Thursday, 28 April 2011

Growing old in the Garden

Sometimes I look around my garden and every patch I remember weeding suddenly resembles the Amazon Jungle of Weeds.  How did that happen so quickly and why is gardening so much like housework - it NEVER ends!  And just when you seem to have completed a round of hardcore work, you're right back to where you started - and you simply have to begin all over again.  An endless cycle of work, work, work!
It's when I have this realisation that I feel old.  Really old!  We have had so much rain over the last week and a bit, that the weeds have doubled, or tripled in size and amount.
People say you're only as old as you feel, but days like this, I feel 80-plus some!

But on a brighter note, today is the last day that my "baby" girl is 15 - tomorrow she will be Sweet 16.  Most 16's are anything BUT sweet, but my girl is super-sweet!  I have this theory: when your little child is a right royal demon, they turn into angels when they become teens and vice versa.  Well, it's a theory that can only stand up to the test in our house perhaps, as she used to be a little monster but she has grown so tall, so wise and so beautiful - and beautiful on the outside too.

It's like tending my garden; when I have these little seeds I plant, I watch over them, anticipate their "birth" with great excitement and when I see their little green heads poke up out of the soil, I am ecstatic with the euphoria of having given life............... I eagerly water them, making sure they get enough sunshine, not too much heat, anticipating their needs, feeding them and then finally planting them out into the garden where I still tend them, but less urgently as much of their needs are taken care of by the sun and the rain.  Then one day you look out on your garden and you draw an audible intake of breath as you gaze on the beauty of the plant that you have sporadically cared for - suddenly it is magnificent in it's own beauty!  And it got that way, much on it's own.

Kinda like how I feel about our kids.  The nurturing and the growing of them.

Today I dug up the first real cache of Jerusalem artichokes.  They are a tuberous vegetable, belonging to the sunflower family but mistakenly botany-identified as artichokes.  My gardening book also states that they do not come from Jerusalem either!  Strangely misleading name altogether then.  However, when scrubbed clean, these knobbly little critters are a taste sensation like no other, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with a little sea salt.  They are said to give one a case of "foul flatulence after mass consumption" but who cares?  Would you eat less chocolate if it made you, ............. you know......?  Fart.  Doubt it.

Anyway, I think we shall be giving them away in bucketloads - simply because we have so many of them.  One tuber can yeild a small bucketful of produce - I must have planted about 16 tubers (not to mention the ones left over from the last raiding of treasures - like potatoes, it is easy to overlook pocketfuls of them when harvesting.  Oh, and did I mention the flower?  The crowning glory is a mass of small sunflower-like flowers towering 2 1/2 to 3 m tall!  A reason to plant them on that account only.
Tall and beautiful, just like my daughter.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Feijoa Fantastic

Size difference between our feijoas

So, eating seasonally can have it's challenges - none more acute than feijoa season! Feijoas, or pineapple guavas, are indigenous to Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina and have acclimatised to growing in our little New Zealand garden with a vengeance. They have these striking little fluffy red flowers which the blackbirds seem to love. During the first flowering season, I spent a most of my time running out and shooing away the birds as they voraciously “devoured” and tore apart our feijoa flowers! Later, I found out that the very little blighters I was scaring away, were responsible for pollinating our fruit!! So now I smile in Spring when I see them ripping the flowers apart - each one will be fruit for us in Autumn!

Feijoas have a relatively short fruiting season - roughly 5 - 7 weeks, when they drop their ripened fruit onto the ground. A daily harvest usually yields anything up to a full bucket of fruit. This of course, has to then be processed! So feijoa season is an intense mammoth industrial kitchen affair, what with 8 trees in our garden! I dehydrate them, puree them, compote them, crumble them (substitute feijoas for apple), fruit salad them, jam them,chutney them and palm them off on any unsuspecting neighbour or visitor before they can politely refuse! 
A clutch of God's little Egg-shaped  Delights at Easter!
A great chutney recipe worthy of sharing, from Digby Law:
1kg feijoas
500g onions
300g raisins
500g pitted dates
500g brown sugar
1 Tbspn ground ginger and 1 of curry powder
1 tspn ground cloves and ¼ of cayenne pepper
4 tspn salt
4 cups malt vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar)
Wipe feijoas, trim ends and finely slice. Finely chop onions and coursely chop dates. Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan, bring to the boil and cook very gently for 11/2 to 2 hours until chutney is thick. Spoon into hot, clean jars and seal. Makes about 3 litres.

This time of year also sees us collecting various pumpkins and squashes

A wrestling mass of Zuchini Rampicante
I really look forward to the end of feijoa season - bring it on fig, citrus, persimmon and guava season!!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Going bananas

"Way down south, where the bananas grow.........."
Actually, you can be36% south of the equator and still grow bananas!  One would think it too cold to successfully grow bananas here in the little town of Katikati, with frosty winters........... in fact, last winter, the severe frosts looked as if they had all but dealt the final death knell to our bananas, but these are really a resilient bunch of  herbaceous perennials! (In other words, bananas are giant herbs, related to lilies and orchids!).   My gardening book tells of "the trunk or portion above ground, which carries the large ornamental leaves, is a pseudostem" and not a real stem at all.  The banana is highly nutritious and the skin is rich in potassium, therefore, a vital ingredient in the compost bin.
Our first bunch of home-grown bananas
We grow 4 "clumps" of bananas (each clump consists of 3 pseudostems).  3 are of a variety gifted to us by friends and the other is one we bought called Lady Fingers or Hamurana.  With great excitement we watched our Hamurana set a beautiful ruby-red flower, which quickly became a mass of tiny little bananalets (My word for little bananas).  I was told our climate is too cold and to increase heat, to wrap our bunch up in a special plastic bag.  finding some left-over plastic from the construction of our hothouse, I managed to whizz up a banana bag - worked a charm and in January this year, we proudly harvested our first bunch of Katikati bananas!  What a thrill!
We ate bananas and for a whole 2 weeks, our breaths smelt sweet like bananas!
Now it is with pride that we spy another 6 bunches on our friend-given bananas - one is carefully bagged and reaching harvest time (this time we will harvest before they all turn yellow, thus avoiding the possibility of death by quick consumption of bananas!

Banana Grove, next to our compost bin -
note the bagged bunch of bananas!
Our bunch awaiting harvest

Our "health guru", Don Tolman, gives some reasons for eating bananas:
  • Bananas are full of potassium, folate, vitamin B6, A and C for protection of heart and bones
  • They are packed with fibre to keep you regular
  • They contain melatonin for adjusting your internal clock
  • Bananas help stabilize blood pressure (potassium)
  • The potassium helps build stronger bones (mineral needed to absorb calcium)
  • Helps with coughs and soothes heartburn and acid reflux
  • The high amount of protein gives it a great energy reputation - it's the snack of athletes
  • The dieters dream food - low in calories and fat to help reduce weight
  • High in iron, bananas help anemia.
  • It increases brain power (potassium) to help students stay alert
  • Because of tryptophan in bananas, it helps people suffering from depression
  • Snacking on bananas between meals reduced morning sickness by keeping blood sugar levels up
  • Vit B6 in bananas regulates blood glucose levels, which can help alleviate moods with PMS

Wow! And you thought it was just a banana!
And did you know:
The signature food for the male sex organ is the banana? Yes, that's correct! It apparently increases the size and girth of the little wee fella! click click................., is that the sound of high heels as you girls all run for the nearest green grocer??

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Dirt on Nutrition

March is time to harvest figs - we grow Brown Turkey and Green figs

Early February harvests include crystal apple cucumbers, courgettes, rampicante zuchini, beetroots, beans, chillis, peaches, tomatoes, grapes and eggplants

With the arrival of colder weather, we are down to collecting capsicums, beans, feijoas and the last of the late passion fruit
I love this simple life.  One where we spend time planning and growing our food, harvesting it, preparing or preserving it - and of course, then eating it.  Food for the mind.  Food for the body.  Food for the soul.  It nourishes and sustains us.  If you are what you eat, then healthy food equals a healthy body and a healthy outlook.  I like to think I live my life following the KISS principle.  "Keeping it simple, Sweetheart!"  Life is simple - when it becomes too complicated, you can be sure, someone is making big money out of it!!
Casting my mind back 5 years ago, we were trapped in the cycle of listening to the lies about our nutritional deficiencies.  Our family spent up to $60 per week on nutritional supplements!  We believed all the lies about our food being deficient as the soils are deficient  and because we are vegetarian, we needed to supplement our iron, our B12, iodine etc, etc.
5 years ago, our newly aquired "nutritional and life coach", Don Tolman laid that lie open for us and now we have more money to spend, and I have never felt better!   He describes this in simple terms that simple people like me can understand.  If you take something from nature, isolate it, concentrate it and pack it into a capsule, chances are, your body won't recognize it. 
And the dirt on soil?
If you plant a tomato bush in front of your house and one at the back, perhaps the one at the back doesn't produce good tomatoes........... this could be due to the fact that the sun doesn't shine there, you don't water it often enough, the soil isn't as good or it was subject to fungal disease cause of insufficient air flow.  The one at the front may produce great big juicy tomatoes, full of flavour.  If that tomato bush was capable of growing tomatoes that looked and tasted as a tomato should, it got everything from the soil that it needed.  And thus that tomato will have all the nutrition you need from a tomato!  End of story!  KISS principle in action.
This is a heritage tomato my daughter grew, called a Brandywine.  The cracking is one of it's characteristics.  Her hands are much bigger than mine, to highlight the size of this little monster!  

Did you know that the humble tomato helps protect the prostate in men, helps prevent and rid the body of cancer (lycopene), lowers cholesterol, supports the immune system and protects the heart?  And so easy to grow!  We eat them fresh only in summer, when we can grow them in abundance, and eat the sun-dried variety in salads in winter. Simple.

Monday, 4 April 2011

With a little help from our friends

There are times when we are overwhelmed at the immense task of growing our own food.  Enter the little helper!  We have joined a network of visiting helpers on and the ideology behind it is simple - travellers who want to connect with people list their profiles on the website and hosts do the same.  This connects a wonderful source of mutually beneficial people from all over the world, right in your own backyard!
We have had helpers from France, UK, USA, Germany, Sweden and Canada come from 1 - 5 weeks at a time and in exchange for board and lodging, they work for 4-5hours a day in your garden and around your home.
Our wonderful little kitchen herb garden

Raised bed in the making

What a wonderful way to share the workload and at the same time, meet a whole bunch of really, really awesome like-minded people!
We've had an Irish landscaper who helped build our little kitchen garden, a German and Swedish couple who built our raised beds and hothouse, a French couple who painted fences and our cottage, a Canadian couple who gardened and fixed light-fittings amongst many other things, American travelers who weeded, mulched, planted and raked things, a UK couple who refitted our garden shed, stacked our winter firewood and weeded till they dropped ........... the list goes on and on!  Each time we look at certain parts of our home or garden, we remember them fondly.  They become part of our lives and certainly leave their mark on it.  They touch our hearts and we look on them as extended family.
Truly a blessing, and our lives are enriched by all these folk who come and share a little of our lives for a short time.
A neatly stacked store of firewood for winter

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Weekend Activities

Mike and I will spend a whole day in the garden each weekend and this one was no exception, though we did this in spurts, inter-spaced with bouts in the kitchen as the rain came down in spells.
Mike had done some apple and pear tree pruning on Friday afternoon and kindly left a huge pile of clippings and branches for me and my trusty Masport Silent Mulcher.  An essential tool for minimizing waste which would normally take forever to break down in some unsightly corner of the garden.  Mulching all our prunings enables us to spread it over the ground as mulch to suppress the weeds, or to layer it into the compost bin to provide precious carbon material to our compost.  Before purchasing it, we would spend half a day painstakingly cutting our prunings up into smaller pieces and then 4-5 months down the line, still be picking the sticks out of our compost!  Mmmn, I'm all for working smart - lessening the workload if you can.  The Masport Mulcher uses a little electricity but I figure that is offset by our solar panels heating our water, so I don't feel guilty about using a little extra power to lessen the work load.

In between the rain showers, I made beetroot soup with our chioggia beetroots - wonderful candy-striped beetroot which is amazing when grated raw into salads.  The recipe is worthy of sharing as it is simply delicious! And deliciously simple to make!

Beetroot and Feta Soup


  • 3-4 medium (apple-sized) beetroot , grated coarsely, or chopped into small dice
  • 500g ripe tomatoes, halved
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped roughly
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive or sunflower oil
  • 500ml good strong veg stock
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 125g feta cheese

Preparation method

  1. Place the halved tomatoes in an ovenproof dish. Throw over the garlic and drizzle over half the olive oil.
  2. Roast for 25-30 minutes in a fairly hot oven (190C/375F) until soft and pulpy. 
  3. Heat the remaining oil in a pan and sweat the onion for a few minutes until soft. Add the beetroot and the stock and bring to the boil. Season lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Simmer gently 7-10 minutes until tender.
  4. Stir in the tomato purée, use hand or stick blender and process until completely smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary
  5. To serve cold, chill the soup in the fridge, then divide between six bowls. Using your fingers, crumble a little feta into each bowl. A sprinkling of grated raw beetroot makes a good garnish for the cold version
  6. To serve hot, reheat the soup until thoroughly hot but not boiling. Divide between warm bowls and crumble over a little feta into each bowl. Serve with crusty bread.
    I find the internet a wonderful source of information - I will come in from the garden with a bunch of something - a quick google will give me a source of inspiration of how to process the produce!  
    I also picked a brown paper bag full of basil leaves which I am drying in the dehydrator - wonderful aroma of basil wafting through the house.  I normally dry them in paper bags in the hot water cupboard but this time, there were too many leaves to dry in this way. The dehydrator has been working overtime this weekend, after dehydrating heaps of apples which were the fruits of Mike's pruning spree.  Alas, not a nice job, cutting out all the coddling moth bits -yuk!   The rest of the apples have been stewed and will be frozen for later use in winter.

    The other "fruit" which was processed this weekend was small eggplants and capsicums which I made into caponata - our favourite summertime recipe and one which is a staple  traditional Christmas lunchtime addition  - it is a rich cold "stew" eaten with soft white crusty bread and is made with eggplant, capsicums, olives, capers, tomatoes and onions.  Two lots of caponata now sit in my freezer, awaiting a moment to be revived as a mid-winter treat perhaps!