My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden

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My Garden ~ soil health

Tonight I read an article Farms of the Future in my February 2007 copy of
New Zealand Lifestyle Block. In it, research by a Dr Anderson found “food nutrient levels in the developed world are deteriorating.”  The article quoted him urging farmers to “step off the treadmill of agricultural chemicals and onto a path of managing soils, crops and animals in a profitable and sustainable way.”
I also believe there is a link between the health of the food we eat and our own health. This article sparked childhood memories I have of the way my father practised farming (in the future 40 years ago, perhaps!).
In a previous blog, I described how my late father was a farmer a man who cared for the soil. The high level of soil fertility (of the farm) was a result of applications of liquid seaweed and dragging a chain harrow to spread the animal manure over the paddocks. This was in an era when neighbouring farmers were applying fertiliser such as superphosphate to promote pasture growth. He grazed fewer dairy cows yet achieved similar profitable milk production figures to other farmers in the district. Less stress on the animals – they did not have to compete for blades of grass. Each year, a different paddock would be cultivated, sown in turnips as a winter feed crop before being re-grassed – no agricultural chemicals used. Not like the current focus of intensive practices to achieve high returns from farms. Animals and soil are respectively dosed and dusted with agricultural supplements and chemicals that indirectly enter our systems and affect our health. Dad cared for the soil which in turn grew healthy plant life and in turn, healthy animals. It was the same for the vegetables he grew – no sprays. He worked hard, but he in tune with nature and understood how to nurture the soil that provided for our needs.  It is my practice to rotate crops and to build the levels of humus in the soil without chemical interventions. I’ll sow a nitrogen-fixing crop in a bare plot with the intention of composting the green crop later on in spring to prepare the soil for planting summer vegetables. It is do-able on a small lifestyle block to improve the health of the soil and of the food we eat.

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My Garden ~ beneficial insects

There’s a certain languor to the pace of living in this summer heat and humidity. The most energetic workers in the garden lately are the insects. Dragonflies hover and we find ourselves rescuing them from the swimming pool. The longer a dragonfly lives the more mosquitoes it can chomp the better. Himself says the mozzies have a personal vendetta against him as he slaps yet more insect repellent on each night. For some reason, I’m don’t seem to get bitten which doesn’t help Himself under siege. Bumblebees flit from flower to flower in their continual quest for nectar. Each has a useful ecological role in the garden. Once when Himself and I were clearing a large Buddleia (I think it’ B.davidii) which is an invasive weed plant here, we disturbed a colony of bumblees nesting in the ground among the tangled root system. Obviously the flowers were a great food source. The bumblebees didn’t sting us – they weren’t aggressive towards us that day unlike wasps. I have since idly wondered about how to  breed bumblebees as I understand they can be useful pollinators of plants grown in greenhouses.

None of this really prepares me for return to work tomorrow after the summer break. Insrect life will still happen and at the end of each workday I’ll escape into the garden.   


My Garden ~ plums and possums

Our Luisa plum tree branches have a heavy crop this season. It’s a large cone-shaped yellow-fleshed fruit, sweet and juicy to eat  when ripe and picked straight from the tree. However, we have a problem. Possums! This animal is a serious pest in New Zealand. They roam distances and forage during the night and damage trees. We set Timms traps as we will neither use poison baits as we don’t wish to harm the environment nor shoot the pest for obvious reasons of safety of others. We check and clear possible nesting sites on our place. Our friend has three Jack Russell dogs. She says the possums don’t venture much onto their property because the dogs have strong hunting instincts. Though we enjoy the company of our canine friends, we don’t own a dog. Oh well, I’ll just have to pick the fruit and preserve it before we lose the lot. At least the courgettes and lettuces have been spared.

Luisa Plum    Ripening and undamaged Luisa plum fruit is large, red skinned and yellow-fleshed.

Luisa Plum   Half-eaten plum left on the branch by a possum. Often branches are broken as the animal clambers through the tree in search of the tastiest fruits.

 Possum damage to Luisa Plum   More possum damage. Plums are knocked to ground – often the unripe fruit.

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My Garden ~ others’ blogs

Younger son (works in .com industry) said I should ‘do’ a blog. Initially, I asked why on earth would I spend time at a computer to write a blog? When not at work, I switch the mobile off and unplug the laptop. That’s it! I prefer to connect with the abundant life that’s happening in my garden. New to blogging, I hadn’t a clue what to write about. I’ve always kept a garden diary and so thought maybe I could use these jottings as the basis for my garden blog.  It was usual for people in the rural community in which I grew up a a child, to grow and harvest their own food. My late father was a farmer a man who cared for the soil. The high level of soil fertility was a result of applications of liquid seaweed and dragging a chain harrow to spread the animal manure over the paddocks. This was in an era when neighbouring farmers were applying fertiliser such as superphosphate to promote pasture growth. He also grew enough vegetables to keep our family supplied year round. Dad always kept seeds for the next season. My mother preserved the most wonderful white fleshed nectarines and large peaches. He’d made the connection of the well-being of people with the health of the soil. My mother-in-law believed in the therapeutic power of gardening. It was she who drew my attention to the problems of harmful growing practices. She too was a seed-saver and shared her belief in the importance of growing a range of healthy food. Knowing how to cook great meals is as natural as growing great food in season.      

As I stayed out of the hot sun today and I spent some time reading others’ blogs. What a diverse lot we are. It’s wonderful the way people care about growing, cooking and eating fresh food. To achieve this aim, they start with the soil to nurture and sustain their living environment for the best results in the belief a positive difference can happen. There’s the sense of chatting over the neighbour’s fence. People help others or offer solutions.

Bill Mollison with Reny Mia Slay wrote in Introduction to Permaculture (1995): “Bring food-growing back into the cities and towns, where it has always traditionally been in sustainable societies. Assist people to become self-reliant, and promote community responsibility.”  

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My Garden ~ surviving a hot day

It’s been the hottest day this month – 26 to 27 degrees C at our place. My focus remains maintaining moisture. I use green mulch to cover the soil and to attract beneficial insects, and compost in raised garden beds – my answer to gardening on hardpan clay. Snapshots taken late this afternoon show some plants I’m growning.



Sweetcorn  Green Mulch Purple Sage Potato  Santolina


New raised beds    Borage/comfrey     Purple Sage             Potato-‘Heather’          Santolina  

This year, I’m trying out a late potato variety called Heather. According to my garden centre info sheet  it has a purple skin, is oval shaped, has a smooth skin, is white fleshed and cooks well.  I’ll see how it goes.

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My Garden – garden harvest and McNaughton’s Comet

Lots of family turned up this weekend for different reasons. On Saturday, we had a real feast from the garden. The Red Rascal and Urenika (Maori potato) potatoes were harvested by hand – I don’t like to fork for potatoes, and anyway, it’s not necessary when they have been grown in rotted hay which can be easily pulled away. Herbs and salad leaves were picked and dressed with a balsamic vinagrette. The beetroot was peeled, quartered, rubbed with olive oil and pepper and roasted.

I like to serve chilled water (we collect rainwater) in a clear glass jug with herbs and fruit that I have grown. This time I simply used borage flowers, lemon balm leaves and slices of lemon. As the strawberries are still fruiting, Grandson Number One (aged eight) who’s been learning about cooking, got into the kitchen and whippped up strawberry milkshakes for his brothers, sister and cousin. His ‘recipe’ (no quantities) calls for full-cream milk and vanilla icecream blended with a bit of strawberry flavouring. Pour into a glass, add a BIG scoop of icecream, a colourful drinking straw, sliced freshly picked strawberries and serve saying, “bon appetit!”   

An adult nephew’s birthday was an excuse to celebrate with Banana Cake – an family favourite made from a recipe my mother’s used for years. Method: Cream 125g butter and 175g sugar. Add 2 eggs and 2 mashed ripe bananas. Dissolve 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 2 tablespoons of boiling milk. Add to mixture. Sift 225grams of flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder and stir into mixture. Bake in 20cm greased cake tin at 180C for about 20 minutes. When cooled, split cake in half.  Filling: Blend whipped cream and marscapone. Spread across the bottom cake layer. Top with sliced bananas. Cover with top cake layer. Chocolate Icing: Blend about 1 cup of icing sugar, 1 tablespoon of softened butter, 1 dessertspoon of boiling water and 1 to 2 tablespoons of cocoa and vanilla essence. Spread over top cake layer. Sprinkle with long thread coconut to decorate.          

I have a banana plant (grown from a sucker given to me) that is sheltered from wind. It grows strong stems and will produce a bunch of small fruit that amount to nothing. It’d be nice to be able to grow bananas to eat but we do get light frosts at times. While I haven’t really paid much attention to growing this fruit – I do like the ornamental effect. It may be that my plant isn’t the right one for the conditions.          

We enjoyed a barbeque in the garden last night with friends and family and watched McNaughton’s Comet that’s been appearing in the New Zealand western sky just after sunset for the last few nights. Sis-in-law mused how gazing at such a natural universal event links us with skywatchers before our time and elsewhere.  Who will be watching this comet when it returns in a million years? We had no answers for this and other big questions.

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My Garden ~ Mulberry, Lettuce and Broad Beans

Had a much needed but brief break. We stayed with my sister and her husband who have a coastal farm and a frost free growing climate. An old Mulberry tree (don’t know which variety) planted about four generations ago still bears lots of red fruit – if only they could get to pick a decent crop. The birds strip the fruit so quickly! The tree stands proudly in solitary splendour the survivor of an old orchard once planted by the forebears of this family. They are considering grafting so a new tree an be grown in the present family orchard and thus maintaining the link between family generations.

The recent rain was a such welcome relief from the dry conditions we’ve been experiencing since spring. When got back to our own garden, the potatoes are in flower, and recent sowings of peas, beetroot, carrots and radishes have sprouted. We planted more lettuce seedlings to keep up with the salads – Red Sails, Buttercrunch and frilly green and red leafed varieties. Generally for the next month I’ll focus on conserving moisture. February can be so hot here. I need to prune the Redhaven peach tree now the fruit has has finished.

Younger son and I talked about preparing vegie garden beds in time for winter plantings in March. In autumn, I like to sow a green manure crop like broad beans in some part of the garden which I can later dig the crop in – it’s great for conditioning the soil. Also love the way the bumblebees go for the flowers.

We do like eating the young Broad Beans. I generally just shell them, steam with a few sprigs of Savory and then serve with finely cut strips of grilled bacon. Sometimes I will add a small knob of butter or a spoonful of creme fraiche (as the mood dictates) to the hot beans. Sprinkle a few Savory leaves over the beans and enjoy a simple dish.