Saturday, 30 June 2012

How does the garden grow?

 We have just had the most devastating week a week or 2 ago, with 4 heavy frosts, one morning after the other!  And another one this morning!  Eeek!  Bring on Fiji, Rarotonga or Seychelles!  I looked out of the window, and watched how the garden turned white each frosty morning.  The damage was vast and quick!  In one week, we watched the garden turn from white to a burnt shade of black!  The tamarillos, the hibiscus, the bananas, the echinaceas, everything sub-tropical took a snow-dive into slow and painful death.  But I have gardened long enough not to dwell too long on the devastation and instead, plan ahead for future Spring plantings.
Anyone for Ice Berg lettuce??
Crispy grass that crunches underfoot.

Sugar-frosted carrot tips.

Arctic Parsley 
Despite this setback, we still managed to harvest carrots, radishes, lemons, limes, red and yellow cherry guavas, mandarins and leeks this week.  All the yellow/orangey foods full of beta-carotene and Vit C.  Lemon juice is antiseptic and a good home remedy for colds, sore throats, laryngitis, rheumatism, allergies and diarrhoea (going around at the moment) as it destroys hostile germs, cleans the blood, promotes weight loss (common in winter), strengthens weak blood vessels and aids digestion if taken just before a meal.  If you don't have any other fruit trees, make a lemon tree your one exception!  We use it to make salad dressings, to drizzle over baked veggies, in stir-fries and then some!  A warming drink of lemon and honey in hot water is a great winter treat.  We also, surprisingly, harvested a bunch of bananas this week, which we will ripen in the shed, away from further frosts.  

Winter pickings

Ripening sweet bananas... can't wait!
After an initial delay, the arborist came and chopped our 2 big trees down.  It is surprising how quickly one gets used to a new vista!  The beneficial effect on the garden is profound!  The 2 garden beds to the right of the picture below, were very much in shade for a good part of the day.  Now they are bathed in full day sunlight!   The cost of tree chopping came to $300.   2 cubic metres of firewood costs $220.   A win/win situation for us.  I am glad I was not home to witness the actual felling of the trees, less traumatic that way.   We have about 2 cubic metres of firewood for next winter, or closer to 3m3 courtesy of our latest helpxers, Luca and Chantal, who chopped and stacked it all for us.

Frost-burned grass

The tree that once was........

Next winter's wood supply
Our garlic crop seems to be surviving, tiny green shoots raising their heads and reaching for the sun.  We planted fat organic cloves which Mike bought at a local organic outlet.  We decided against using our own garlic seed as the last crop was pitiful.  It was struck by a fungal blight during the middle stage of growing, with way too much unseasonal summer rainfall.  Our little persimmon tree has produced just 15 persimmons - I hope next year there will be double that!  This has been a beautiful Autumn/Winter so far......... lots of sunshine which we missed out on during Summer.  It was a bit like the English Summers people joke about, 3 days of sunshine!  Blink and you miss it!  The chooks have been working over-time, I think it might be the sunshine!  We are collecting an egg a day again, after a 3 month egg-drought!

Tree-ripened persimmons for the picking.....

Frost damage to our young macadamia tree

Again, orange/yellow fruit from the garden to boost the immune
system for winter

Cute little bantam chook eggs

The stump of the Maple tree.  No more.
I removed all the paraphernalia that hung in our oak tree in the middle of the garden; several pumice and driftwood sculptures, a bird feeder, a bird house and a nesting box.  Removing the nesting box, I lifted the hinged roof to check inside and found this handsome lad!  Actually, it was a lass - note the ovipositor on her butt.  She was non-aggressive and quite happy to pose for a photo, before I replaced her in her rather large apartment.  Wetas are New Zealand's ancient insect which was around at the time of Gondwanaland. They are nocturnal and flightless.  DOC lists 16 of the 70 weta species as at risk.  They look like something out of a science fiction movie!  Fascinating!

Weta Apartment
I wanted to showcase these amazing little eco-lunch wraps below.  For litter-less lunches, a young entrepeneural 10yr old girl made sets of these to sell at our Enviro-kindergarten.  No more nasty cling wrap plastic.  The bigger one opens out to wrap a sandwich in, while the smaller one holds a biscuit or two or some crackers.  Very, very clever and I could not help but instantly buy one for the grand sum of $12.  I think she could be a millionaire by 20 if she pushed this idea on the Web.

We went for a little drive to Omokoroa beach on Saturday, such a picturesque little seaside spot!  To my delight, the tide was out and the harbour beach was littered with clumps of green.  Tons of it, so I filled up Mike's Eveready Box with the stuff and brought it home to gift to the compost bin.  Yay!  All those wonderful nutrients from the sea.
The planting window is just opening and I am delighting in all the possibilities I am going to plant, from the King's Seeds catalogue.  And with the middle bed having recently been weeded by our wonderful helpxers, I can begin to plan..............  Day dreams.  Spring is not too far away....... there's light at the end of this dark tunnel!

Sea lettuce and sea grass - a gift from Tangaroa,
the God of the Seas.

Weed-free middle bed, ready for planting up with spring and summer plants.
Onwards and upwards............. we have been thinking of generating some of our own energy for a long time.  In the last 5 years, solar generating power systems have become more and more affordable.  2 years ago we had a quote to install a system, at a mere $30 000.  This year, it has reduced by half!  The same system will cost $16 000 approximately!  A huge difference.  And no, if we wait another year, I don't think it will be $8000.  It may reduce in cost but only incrementally.  Mike has calculated that this system at it's current price, will pay for itself over 5 years!  Why wouldn't we do it????  With the current rising cost of power, we would be silly not to!  Power cost in New Zealand has increased by nearly 80% in just 8 years!  So we are looking at building a solarium in front of the house, which will support enough solar panels to generate half of our energy needs.  It's quite exciting!  Of course, the next step in that evolution, will be to try to reduce our energy consumption!!   

Ooops, better go and turn off this overhead light which I no longer need, as the day has brightened my vision somewhat..............

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Bumblebees and boxes

An old mosaiced house number 
I read about how bumblebees nest in the ground, and then I discovered that you can help the little fuzzballs out by making a bumblebee box for them to live in.  I googled a couple of options, found out what they need and then set off to the shed last dark and miserable Sunday morning.  I found just what I was looking for - discarded wooden packaging pieces (untreated) which were almost the right size.  I glued and nailed 4 sides together.  Then I screwed them together for extra strength.
A middle partition forms a sleeping area

Drilling a hole for the entrance-way
I drilled 2 big holes with a Big-Hole-Drill (you can guess, I may know my way around the shed and tools, but the precise names elude me).  One hole formed an air-flow hole, which I covered in wired mesh to stop slugs and other unwanted mousy visitors out.  The second hole was drilled to provide an entrance way.

The air hole with double chicken wire mesh to
filter visitors
I decided to make my box open up at one end, where the sleeping quarters are located.  This side allows me to clean out the bedding if need be.  Bedding consists of moss or hay/straw.  A brightly coloured little duvet might be cosy - only kidding!  The hinged opening was made by cutting strips of inner rubber tyre tubes (free from tyre shops) and stapling them in place.  The closing clasps are made in a similar manner, a small cut made in the end piece and screws to secure them.
Now I just need to find a place to put the Bumblebee Box.  It needs to be on the ground, out of direct sunlight but in a sheltered position...........  I believe that my box might be a season away from being inhabited - winter is not a good time to offer new digs.  I won't hold my breath............. 
It was fun to make it.  

Both hinges and closing clasps made from old tyre inners

The piece-d'resistance - a tubular entrance 

The opening part 

I followed instructions to add a metal nail at entrance of tube
to deter slugs and snails
I have a habit of making homes for creatures in the garden - OCD.  My cat likes boxes, almost as much as I like making them!  I have several bird houses out there - their designs just keep on getting better.  One spring, we had 3 families of starlings side by side on the fence!  It was such a thrill, but Mike plugged the holes up the following Spring as he said they made far too much noise!  Later versions of the Bird Abode include openings to clean out old nests in preparation for new spring egg layings.  Speaking of which............... our lazy old Tarts, or more commonly referred to as The Girls, have begun to lay again!  6 eggs in all, over a week - not bad innings!  They haven't laid for more than 3 months!!  Been on egg-holiday!  The eggs are elongated - I think that is terribly sensible, being so cold, you wouldn't want your openings to open up too much!  It'd let too much of a draft up the shaft!!

Old versions of a Bird Nesting Box

No sign of birds but certainly spiders have moved in!
These hinges are made from old school sandals
This little furry guy was caught snuggling up to one of my
pumpkins back in April.  Wish I had had my Bumblebee Box
ready for him back then when it started to get cold!
So I shall keep my bumblebee box in the shed and find a suitable placement just before Spring and then wait with bated breath...........

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Changing Rooms

Large deciduous oak tree
As always, the garden is constantly changing.  Seeds germinate, grow and dominate one area, only to be harvested, removed and cleared.  A blank canvas once more.  Seasons too bring changes.  As our Autumn was so balmy and the winter has been mild so far, deciduous trees are only now beginning to lose their leaves.  The old oak tree in the centre of our garden has dominated our view for so long, that it is an old friend.  A wistful last portrait - it has been topped twice in the time we have lived here (7yrs) and now the decision has been made to remove it completely.  It grows at such a vast rate that it obliterates the sun to much of the vegetable garden in Autumn/Winter, even when it has lost it's leaves.  Sometimes we make these decisions, regretfully.  But then I am reminded that we have planted about 60 -70 trees over the past 7 years, so at least we are increasing Earth's lung capacity, not just shutting it down.  Cutting down our tree will mean more sun for our vegetable growing, which is ultimately our sustenance.  Another maple tree (Northern Hemisphere trees) will meet the same fate but we feel less saddened by the decision as it has never fully recovered from it's previous pruning about a year and a half ago.

Maple "stump" at far back, in front of shed.  This picture
also shows the shading of the vegetable beds by the oak.
Actually, the garden is not looking too bad for this time of year.  The middle garden is due for a major overhaul, which it will get soon.  The hebes are woody and the plantings are so haphazard that it really begs a make-over.  So next weekend, we will pull most of it up and start again.  I have ordered some ground-covers, small shrubs and flowers from an online nursery, so will be able to plan and plant it all out hopefully.  The tricky bit will be trying to remember where I planted all the bulbs!

The citrus in the garden make for a lovely burst of colour.  The lemons and grapefruits are ripening up nicely, their yellows matching the daffodil bulbs that are popping up everywhere.  All that lovely Winter fortifying Vitamin C.  Did you know, according to the doctrine of Signatures of Wholefoods, that citrus is the signature food for breasts?  If you look at the cross-section of a breast in an anatomy book, and  a picture of an orange or lemon cut in half from side to side, it mimics the mamary glands perfectly??  Truly amazing!  The D-Limomene, found in the oil of citrus fruits has been found to detoxify estrogen!
Small 3 yr old lemon Meyer tree dripping in yellowing
fruit -just in time for accelerating the Immune System
for winter.

Lemons ripening on our older thick-skinned
lemon tree.  
I am reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that we cannot grow tamarillos successfully here anymore.  There once was a time when we could.  Our tams survived the one or two frosts we suffered but now that we have been getting anything up to 22 frosts over a single winter/spring it is increasingly impossible.  These sub-tropicals have large thin leaves which are frost magnets - end result: a slow and agonising death by gradual dying off of plant tissues working backwards down the trunk.  My seed-grown cassimiroas, strangely seem to survive!  Now we wait with bated breath - will they ever fruit??  The cherry guavas handle frosts to minus 5deg, so they do well!  Slow growers but prolific fruit-bearers.

Frost-bared tamarillo with fruit still clinging on tenaciously, despite having
lost all leaves!

Yellow cherry guavas ripening in the winter sunshine
As persimmons are truly the fruit we most treasure in this garden (alongside blueberries, strawberries, mandarins, oranges, feijoas, guavas, apricots, peaches, nectarines, bananas............and just about everything else), we individually bag them up to protect them from the marauding birds who seem to love them as much as us.  We keep our old onion bags and peg them onto an overhanging branch to secure them.  It stops 99% of pilfering by feathered friends.  In the long wait for ours to fully tree-ripen, we have bought a 20kg box of organic persimmons - Sun Fruit!  If you cut it across the middle, it shows a pattern of a sun, with rays radiating outwards from the centre.  Fruit of the Gods!

Bird-protected persimmon fruits sweetening up

Welcome sight of butter-yellow daffodils

Grapefruit hang in anticipation........ still a long way off of being sweet.

Middle bed, muddled, overgrown with weeds and in need of TLC

Overgrown wilderness...... watch this space!  Changing rooms!

A bunch of bananas defy the weather odds and fatten up
for a mid-winter feast!
 Back in the kitchen this weekend, we had run out of herb salt.  I made the last one with basil, thyme, rosemary and parsley.  A kind of Mediterranean mix. This time around, I collected a few handfuls of sage leaves, curry bush and fragrant marjoram.  (I never can tell the difference between oreganum and marjoram?!!)  Popped the lot into the dehydrator and set to dry over 2 hours.  Then I buzzed them up in the coffee grinder, added a cup of ground salt and previously dried parsley and Voila!  A very fine tasting table salt.  Quick and easy - and enough to last a month or two at least!
Sage, marjoram and curry bush in dehydrator

Dried herbs crushed in coffee grinder, unwashed sea salt added

Mixed together, herbs and salt - herbed salt!
And then Mike performed his own little Kitchen Magic alongside me............ he's the Hummus King in the house!  I soaked and pre-cooked 3 cups of dried chickpeas which he transforms into the tastiest hummus - watch out Lisa!!  One pottle is eaten almost immediately.  The rest are frozen and defrosted as needed.  

1 cup cooked chickpeas
2 cloves garlic, crushed
sea salt to taste
1 Tbspn olive oil
4 Tbspn Tahini
juice of 1 lemon
optional: chopped mint/sprinkles paprika

Liquidise all ingredients, adding more chickpea water as required.  Add more garlic, lemon oil or salt to taste. 

Mike prepares to make hummus; tools of the trade.

A total weight of just over 1kg hummus

Dried persimmon taste like dried papaya
If I were Korean, I would die with excitement at our Sunday discovery.  I was hanging up the laundry when I spied a rather large green leafy extravaganza under the washing line.  I pulled it up to discover a half-meter long daikon radish!  Looks as if it's been on steroids!  Think of all the kimchi it could make!!  Or maybe I should just try and pickle it?  We'll see.

Our freakish daikon radish!!  How did we miss this one??