Sunday, 25 March 2012

Forests, Firewood, Foraging and Feijoas

Being sustainable is a disease!  It spreads.  No cure for it, before you know it, you're looking at that broken pair of jandals (slops) and wondering what you can do with it before chucking it out.  The simple act of throwing things into the garbage is fraught with conscience.  And then one takes on more and more challenges.  At some point though, you have to sit back and evaluate how much energy you have left and is it all sustainable?  
Yesterday, our friend dropped off our firewood for winter.  At the flick of a lever in his truck cab, they came thundering down onto a seemingly enormous pile of work!  He casually asked why he hadn't seen us at the morning bee keeping workshop.  Ah, because we decided against it, after having attended the first.  It seemed so conventional.  There was talk of all the chemicals one has to use to stop the verroa mite infestation, and then the foul brood infestation.  And so much intervention that it seemd like a full time job!  And already having several full time jobs, we decided that bee-keeping was just not sustainable for us at the moment.  Maybe later!  Besides, we don't seem to have a problem with a lack of bees in our garden at the moment.  There is enough biodiversity to attract all sorts of little fliers and crawlers.
And we managed to stack 2 and a half cubic metres of firewood before the rain came down.
I spied this wonderful pollen collector on a Jerusalem artichoke flower.  Not
sure quite what species it is, seemed much bigger than the average bee.
And of course, part of the disease of sustainable living, is using up your produce.  A lot of our produce this year is not the best looking due to the weather (it continues to rain even as I blog), so giving away "munted" produce always feels stink.  So our kitchen always seems to have excess produce waiting to be processed and the fruit fly has become a household pet.  Droves of the wee buggers.
Yesterday, we picked a basketful of small yellow peaches (may stew them), curly tailed Zuchini Ramicante, apples, strawberries (yes, it is Autumn) and I scrounged up some small potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes which we baked for lunch.  The lunch felt all the more delicious as the potatoes had "accidentally" grown from some rotting ones I had thrown out beside the pathway.  The smell have been awful for a week or so, and then some potato vines had grown, I was amused to see the resilience, so left them till yesterday when I pulled them up to clean up and found a small basinful of beautiful potatoes.  The Jerusalem artichokes had also been scrounged accidentally when I pulled up some rogue plants, to find some tubers clinging to the roots.  Isn't Nature wonderful?

Buncha bananas ripening up in the shed
I keep checking up on our bananas, ever so keen for the sweet, creamy flesh but alas, it's been 3 weeks and I wait still......  slowly they begin to turn a shade of sunshine.  But to distract us for a wee while, the joy of discovering that feijoa season is upon us.  Not prolifically, like last season, but just gentey.  We have just started to collect them (feijoas are traditionally not picked but collected as they drop to the ground) and squeal with glee as we scoop them out by the teaspoonful and taste the sweet tartness that is feijoa.  Last year, mid-season, we were so over feijoas!  I had bottled heaps of pureed feijoa, frozen a few dozen, dehydrated them to the tune of about 6 small bags (several kilos worth) and made endless feijoa crumbles and cakes.  Giving them away is akin to giving bucketsful of snow away in the Arctic.  They are very high in Vitamin C - just a perfectly timed Nature Gift for this time of the year.

A bag of walnuts drying in the shed
Hanging up next to the bananas in the shed, is a bag of walnuts.  I happened to attend a Waiora Healthy Water Workshop in Paengaroa last Thursday, where I collected them with the farmer's blessings.  It was a lovely unexpectedly sunny day and we ended up going to a farm to monitor the water quality there.  The farm was stunningly beautiful (see photos below) and we ended up having to cross a real Robin Hood-type pole across a racing stream, swollen from the recent overnight rains.  My heart beat out an African rhythm as I watched all participants walk over as if they had been using narrow little crossing beams all their lives.  I gathered all my meager courage and hesitatingly placed one gumbooted foot in front of the other, on the sippery rain-soaked surface.  "Don't look down" was my mantra I repeated several times as I crossed.  Suddenly I was on the other side and had to suppress the whoop of joy I felt forming in my chest, as that would draw attention to my greenhorn bush skills.  The "bush bridge" was suspended about a metre and a half above the stream, not 5 metres.   Still, I felt silently elated at that brave feat.  Okay, okay, so I discovered I may be All-Green, but I'm not All Gung-ho Bush-Whacker!  It is wise to know our strengths and acknowledge our weaknesses!

Cherry guavas fattening up in the garden....
The guavas don't seem to be disadvantaged by all this rain and my bushes are clouded with heaps of little green orbs!  The first 2 years that we were here, our tamarillo trees were large and prolific.  Then came the change of weather patterns and the heavy winter and spring frosts didn't just knock back these sub-tropicals but killed them outright.  I have struggled ever since, to successfully grow them.   I always sow a few with seed I squirreled away, every year.  Then each winter-spring, the frosts kill them outright.   This year, one tree survived to slowly claw it's way back after a devastating frosty season last winter, and I am excited about the fruit that clings tenaciously to it's underbelly.  We may yet get to harvest tamarillo again, in this Garden of Et'n.

Precious tamarillos

A jumble of tomatoes in the hothouse
Our hothouse tomatoes are just starting to produce smaller cherry-type tomatoes for our salads.  Hope these continue long through Autumn.  We refuse to buy supermarket waxy, tasteless varieties available all year round, at $1 per tomato in winter.  So we buy sun-dried tomatoes to replace fresh ones in our winter salads instead.  Eating seasonally is really practical, cheap and makes a whole lot of sense.  Highly recommended is a movie Mike and I watched last night, via online premiere, called Hungry for Change.

Zuchini rampicante growing up and into a feijoa tree
Long after most zuchini plants have withered up and died, the Ramicante, an Italian variety, continues to grow prolifically, though they are not forming big bottomed seed chambers on the ends as they are supposed to.  That may well be their response to the lack of sun and over-abundant rainfall.  The carrot seeds I sowed 2 months ago are doing well, with a fairly good strike rate.  I cover my bed with shade cloth until they are big enough to withstand the birds scratching up the ground before they even emerge.

Strawberries in Autumn?  These strawberries are still producing.....

Carrot bed

Self-sown New Zealand spinach self-sown under a feijoa tree
Another name is Perpetual spinach.  It is considered a Heirloom
vegetable and grows as a ground cover.  Perhaps because of it's
high levels of oxalic acid, slugs and snails avoid it.

Another little pollen collector

Zuchini Rampicante hiding under the undergrowth.  Note the
shrivelled seed chamber.  A plight of most of my rampis this season.

Happy little ladybird feeders
If you want to gauge the health of one's garden, the presence of these little fellas who voraciously clean up any aphids, is a good indicator.

Worm farm, with storage containers for vermicaste and comphrey
compost teas and brews
Stepping out of the garden for a moment, I thought I could share my take on car rust.  Over two years ago, I noticed several little rust spots appearing on my much-loved Toyota Corolla '85 model.  My husband suggested I get them seen to.  He was horrified when he discovered my rust solution.  A series of car-grade sticker off-cuts my daughter procured for a school project were cut into an assortment of flowers and pasted over the rust spots.  Rust?  No problem.  2 years on and they sit beautifully on my car.  Another advantage was that my teenage son stopped asking to borrow my car! Only trouble is, in a small town, can't travel incognito!

Answer to rust

Bumper sticker


Below are images taken on my Waiora Healthy Water Workshop.  The land is beautifully taken care of, and the farmer allows public access and shares it with others by allowing them to rent one of 3 little cabins built on the land, at a nominal rate.  It brings to mind a quote by Rupert Stevens, a pioneering organic farmer: "Always leave the earth better than you found it."

Fluffy embankment of grasses flank the walkway into the forest

Up on the hill, built amidst the tall trees, sits a little cabin for hire

Like a scene out of Narnia

I had to bend my head till it touched my shoulders to capture this shot

Colours of Autumn cushion the forest floor

Stunning natural outdoor space

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Jamming it up!

At a time when the garden looks tired and energy-spent, I relish in the sight of colour thrown up by some hardier flower specimens, these below included.  Not sure of their name, but a flower is a flower, is food for the soul.
I dug up some largish bulbs which I discovered buried in
my garden, replanted them along the fence and forgot about them
till these lovely ladies came up, with the most intoxicating scent!

We have slim pickings in the vegetable department at the moment, but the peaches that have not already rotted from too much rain and insufficient sun, cling tenaciously to their branches of the two seed-sown trees, providing us with fruit to snack on, to freeze for later chutney-making, and some to jam-it-up!

5 bottles of wild peach jam.  The taste in mid-winter brings tears
to the eyes, reminding one of the balmy last days of summer.
Still in the kitchen, when breadcrumbs are required to thicken stews, bakes and pies, I avoid store-bought varieties, with all their nasty additives.  A very economical and practical use for stale home-made bread is to slice it up, bang it into the blender, pop it into the oven on low temperature for about an hour, allow to cool and bottle.  I always store it with 2-3 bay leaves tucked into the heart of the crumbs, to stop nasty little wildlife inhabiting and snacking on it.  Best non-toxic additive I know!


Bake!  Voila!
In the garden, much of my time is spent cleaning up, removing dead tomato plants, storing the canes away for next spring, cutting down and chucking all my garden leftovers into the compost, where Mike turns it and the mini micro-organisms like psychrophilic, mesophilic and thermophilic bacteria (just trying to sound very knowledgeable after studying up on a module on composting!!) set to work to turn it into deep, rich, dark, sweet-smelling earthy compost!
I sowed some winter-growing, spring-harvesting vegetables last month and incubated them in the hothouse.  Many have been born already and I eagerly water them each day, awaiting the day that I plant them out into the empty cleaned up vegetable beds.  Most are hardy cold-loving specimens, with a few flower species thrown in to brighten up a potentially dull garden over winter.
Mike had our chimney swept this last week, in anticipation of roasty-toasty fires, and ordered our firewood which will be delivered in 3 weeks time.  We also have a bit of smaller kindling-type wood which we have stored and kept from our own garden.  What we don't mulch (anything over 4cm diameter) is cut up and dried for winter fires.
The little green heads of my new babies poke up expectantly
out of their little cradles.  So exciting........

One of the last of the brave tomato plants still holding out.
I have planted some tomatoes in the hothouse, hoping to extend
our picking time.  Last year, an early unexpected frost killed them
even in the hothouse!
A very exciting time last week was the harvest of our first experimental potatoes grown in a recycled kiwifruit bin.  Needless to say, they were the tastiest potatoes we have had for a while!  Still more to harvest as we need them.  Along with our leeks, I think a Leek and Potato soup might be the order of the day very soon!  I am going to order some heritage potato tubers this week online from the Koanga Institute.  I fancy having me some coloured potatoes!  I usually grow urenika (purple Maori potatoes) and Kowiniwini (purple potato with white saucer-shaped spots) but I lost my Kowiniwini stock last year.  I have to remember to keep seed stock and not eat them all!!  I have also recently read that the little green tomato-like balls on the top of the potato plant hold seed inside, which one can grow.  Apparently interesting tubers result from them and one can cultivate one's own cultivars in this way!  I might just try that out!  Then I will get to name them too!!
Agria potatoes, with a few tiny purple Kowiniwini
It is said, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.  Well, as a vegetarian, I'm not about to teach fishing techniques, but my son recently asked me to take his jeans in on the legs to create "skinny jeans".  I said I was too busy, but that I could teach him how to use my sewing machine...............  Okay, it wasn't the quickest route to skinny jeans, but I admired his dedication to the cause.  The sewing line was a little zaggety, and I had to re-sew another straight line, lest it look like he was smuggling walnuts down his legs, but he tried and persevered!  Top marks for trying!  I am sure he won't become the designer clothes maker, but he certainly will know how to sew a waggely line if he ever needs to again!

The look of concentration......
We have an ex-helpexchanger returned home to help us out for a week.  It is lovely to reconnect with people who have shared your home and lives previously.  Larson, from Minnesota, has been weeding, burning signs for me (pyrography) and generally lending a helping hand to whatever task I set him to.  We have also been jamming it up, him on guitar, me on ukulele!  I do wish that one day I can grow up my instrument to a guitar - it has such a gutsy full sound compared to the little toy uke!!
Our last helpers left us this quirky little card, showing two adults, clothes-free, leaping into the air with joy!  I laughed when I saw it and jokingly asked them what prompted them to give us this particular card.  The answer:  "It just reminded us of you and Mike!"   "What???  No clothes on?" I asked incredulously.  "You guys are just so free!" 
We love the card, Jan and Jasmijn!  I have it up on my storage cupboard in the kitchen to remind us of the joie d' vivre of Life well lived.  

Sunday, 11 March 2012

New pathways

The last of the summer tomatoes with purple and green basil.
Much of our summer vegetables are spent, and the garden is looking worse for the wear at this time of the year.  This year in particular, the weather has not been very kind to growers, with way too much rainfall, not enough sunshine and plenty damaging winds.  The garden is looking sad and weary, so we decided it was time for a clean-up yesterday.  Spent passion fruit vines were cut down, weeds pulled up in a small area of the garden (never ending activity), a huge bunch of bananas harvested, the chooks were relocated to a new veg bed recently vacated and topped up with compost, old branches mulched, a pathway relaid with sawdust and general cleaning up in the area.  My plans were so much grander and I thought I would manage to do so much more than the small area we cleaned and tended, but then we only had one afternoon!  Mike and I attended a morning workshop on preparing beehives for winter.  It was interesting, and because we don't have any bee hives, we were a little swamped with the terminology.  The other 18 attendees were all amateur beekeepers.  They all spoke the language of bees - capping, combing, brooding, swarming.............. a little out of our depth I think!  Perhaps we should have done a little more reading beforehand!!  What did strike us though, was the passion they all had for the hobby of bee-keeping!  These were real enthusiastic bee people!  And everyone was willing to share their knowledge, equipment and experiences.  We have been offered opportunities to go and check out a vertical hive, and a top bar hive (the one we are leaning toward) at different bee keepers homes.  An Austrian guy, Fridolin, or Ferdinand as we call him, at the workshop spoke enthusiastically about his top bar hive to which he added a glass side to, so that one can unlatch the side and see the colony through the glass, at work.  Sounds fascinating.

The relaying of old pathways....
The mess and entangled growth of spent summer growth.

The pathway alongside the cottage.  Time for a clean up!

The tools of a organic renewable pathway worker.  I pulled up
all the weeds, removed the superficial layer of lavender debris
I had previously placed on the pathway for weed suppression.

First line of defense is a cardboard layer, which will eventually
break down and enrich the soil after adding a weed suppression
layer.  Each piece of tape is carefully removed as it does not break
 down, including any plasticated stickers.

A pile of sticks awaiting mulching to break them down and expose
them to the micro-organisms in the soil that will break them down

Our trusty old Masport shredder which makes short work of
all the pruned branches and sticks that would normally be
a problem to compost.

The layer of mulched sticks and sunflower stems
are laid over the cardboard and finally, a layer of
untreated sawdust is sprinkled over it all to even out the
surface of the pathway.

The big bags of untreated sawdust that Mike collects from a
local woodworking outfit.  One man's junk is another man's
treasure!  It saves them dumping fees and provides us with
a solution to our weed suppression on pathways.

Sawdust is supposedly too acidic for using as a mulch around
vegetable beds or trees but works just perfectly for my pathways.
Once it has broken down on the pathways, into a deep rich black, soil
enriched matter, I scrape it up and place it on the vegetable beds.
And today, Sunday, as I write, the rain falls softly, moistening the sawdust and settling it into it's new position, and the garden soaks up some badly needed water.  I will have to start using up the fruit we are currently harvesting - apples, peaches and the last of the tomatoes........  I feel an apple cake coming on!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Cooking up a Storm

The calm before the storm.......
Weather Bombed today!  Thursday saw the winds from Hell's Lungs blow us up such a storm, then, today they arrived with the full wrath, from Hell's Belly! Made Thursday's gale seem like a breath of fresh air in comparison.   They predicted winds of 100km, not sure how I could verify that?  All's I know, is that the winds upturned our wood store, uprooted my bean teepee and downed branches and tomatoes all across the garden.  Luckily our previous rudimentary moorings stopped our hothouse from taking a hop and skip across the gardens again!  The bean teepee was due to be pulled up this weekend, so no tragedy there!  Mike also braved the winds on Thursday to pull down all the giant sunflowers, lest they come crashing down in the wind, causing more damage to surrounding plants.

So with warnings in place, I knew not to plan any gardening activities for today.  The morning has been spent processing the windfalls of Thursday.  While it storms outside, I cook up a storm inside.  I have dehydrated 10 trays of basil leaves (onto the third lot of 5 trays, with several more to go).  We will have a nice supply of dried basil to last the winter through.  5 full-packed trays yeilds a mere quarter of a cupful of dehydrated and crushed leaves, so although I am drying heaps of leaves, I end up with seemingly very little for my efforts!  On the plus side, a good heaped teaspoon of dried leaf basil is all that is needed to impart the taste of summer to a winter pasta sauce.

The basil seems to have appreciated the cooler and wetter
summer conditions more than their companion tomatoes!

An abundance of yellow cling peaches awaiting the the arrival
of some sunshine to ripen up on the tree, wait in vain.
The yellow cling peach tree is a grand success story.  About 4 years ago, I discovered these tall weedy looking plants growing in a patch of bare ground.  There were about 6 of them and as I pulled them out, I noticed what looked like an almond clinging to their roots.  Aha, I thought, we must have thrown some organic almonds out and they have taken root!  So I left one, as an experiment.  As I proudly showed my rapidly growing almond tree to visitors, they warned that you cannot grow almonds successfully from seed.  Why not? I argued, if the good Lord saw fit to give us seeds for growing, why would my almond tree not be successful?  Pull it out before it grows too big insisted my husband.  No, wait and see I said.  After 2 and a bit years, my almond tree set fruit.  I was so excited!!  I knew that almonds grew a fruit, and that you let them drop and the fruit rot off of the nut, so I watched as heaps of fruit lay rotting on the ground.  Then one day, I thought about all the rotting almond fruit and wondered to myself how it looked suspiciously like a peach.  Feeling rather brave and not wanted to die of arsenic poisoning, I bit tentatively into an almond fruit to discover the sweet orange flesh of a cling peach inside.  What joy!  The dismay at allowing so much fruit to fall and rot was quickly forgotten as we hastened to collect the last remaining yellow-green fruit to eat.  The rest is history - my "almond tree" has successfully grown in harvest volume and provides us with enough to eat and to make wonderful jam.  I have since purposely planted a seed-grown tree out at the back of the house.  This is it's first year of fruit set and although the fruit seems a fraction of the giant cling peaches in front, I am sure it will provide us with much edible pleasure.  This morning I bottled a potful of semi-ripe peaches to eat for desert over winter when everything seems so bleak and dull.  Unfortunately, I cannot wait for the elusive sun to tree-ripen them as they are beginning to rot on the tree after all the rain we have had this summer.  I have a bucketful left to cook into wonderful golden peach jam later today.
Our heritage sweetcorn, small but juicy.  Corn needs a long,
hot and dry summer.

Harvested and bottled dill pickles (left)
and a mix of yellow and purple beans (right)

Easy peasy flat bread with sun-dried tomatoes
I often make a quick and easy flat-bread when pressed for time, for a meal.  Served with humus, tomatoes, basil pesto and cheese, it becomes a lovely summer lunch.  My daughter and son use it to make their famous pizzas, always a taste sensation!  It is a favourite recipe given to me by my mother, which always makes me think of her when I make it.
Easy Peasy Flatbread/Pizza base recipe
3 cups self-raising flour (I add 1 tspn baking powder per cup of ordinary organic flour)
1/2 cup sunflower or olive oil
1 cup luke warm water
pinch salt
Throw all ingredients into a tight-lidded plastic container and shake it up vigourously for about a minute.  Pat into a round shape, press a knuckle into the dough to create depressions.  Drizzle olive oil, coarse sea salt and sesame seeds on top.  Bake for 15 mins @ 180deg. C.

The Chook Chick at work

The chooks get transported all around the garden to do
work for their own pleasure

The spent strawberry patch makes a nice foraging patch for the
chooks, who can safely scratch and eat all the snails, slugs and
bugs sheltering in the enclosure.  Awesome pest control.

Having cleared under the pear tree, the chooks are placed in
temporary enclosures for a couple of hours to clean up any
pests in the soil surrounding the tree.

Chaos........ the elderberry is taken up, releasing some airflow
and  sun aspect to the fence hugging feijoa and orange trees.
Changing spaces: now that the elderberry has been taken out, it frees up heaps of space for the overcrowded trees behind.  I plan to plant blueberries in it's place.  Blueberries don't grow to the gigantic proportions of the elderberry, and require little attention other than picking and netting in summer.  They are also wonderful immune boosters.  Talking of immune boosters, our apple Monty's Surprise is a New Zealand heritage apple that is reported to hold the most nutritious cornocopia of antioxidants than most apples.  They grow to 750grams, some the size of a small pumpkin!!
7 jars of green cling peaches, with added frozen summer berries
to add colour and interest completed this afternoon

Monty's Surprise Apple way bigger than my hand

6 jars of Beetroot relish made mid-week - turns any bland sandwich
into a gourmet treat!

This mornings bottling session - 5 apple pulp bottles and
6 of stewed peaches (one includes pear pieces).
So it's been a busy day cooking up a whirlwind of preserves!  After stewing fruit, making jam and fresh bread (machine made), and rice and dahl for supper, me thinks 'tis time to retire.  Phew!  Now it's time to put me feet up, and watch a movie or two!  Tomorrow's a day of seed sowing by the lunar calendar.  And probably some clean up after this raging storm outside.