My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden


Caterpillar Chrysalises in My Garden

Each morning when I feed scraps to the hens before letting them out into the paddock for the day, I hang around to deter the wild ducks from flying in for a free feed. I use this time to check out what is happening my vegetable garden. The To Do list gets longer.

Bumblebees are busy workers. Busier than me in this humidity. The garden looks neglected, shabby and straggly. The Hyssop stems were flattened in the recent stormy weather. Oregano and weeds jostle for dominance under the Scarlet Runner beans. Higher than usual summer temperatures and storm damage wreaked havoc a few days ago. My sister swears she can hear the invasive kikuyu grass following behind her as she pulls weeds. She has a point. Grass growth and garden weeds are rampant in this humidity.

Earlier crops of kale , turnips, tomatoes, cucumber and green beans have self-seeded and the hope is no-effort vegetables. That is a good garden story. Strawberry runners are growing like triffids. The blackbirds make a mess as they scratch up young plants. They flee the crime scene leaving half-eaten tomatoes on the vines. These were not the birds I had in mind when I planted flaxes and native plants to feed native birds and beneficial insects. Such is life in this rural lifestyle neighbourhood. Nature rules.

On a positive note and still on the subject of nature, the Monarch butterflies have been active in the garden. They made a pretty picture in January. Butterflies flitted about and laid their eggs on the Swan plant. The growing caterpillars have since eaten every leaf and are now devouring the seed pods. Food for these colourfully striped creatures is a priority. Today, I went on a rescue mission and transferred caterpillars to seedling Swan plants. I found predatory wasps had made a nest on the plant.  That had to be destroyed manually as spray is harmful to the Monarch caterpillars.

Delicate green and gold trimmed chrysalises also hang in the clump of lemon grass growing nearby. There is a certain delight in being able to observe the natural cycle of caterpillars metamorphosing into butterflies. There is a certain satisfaction knowing beneficial insects are thriving in my garden.



Leave a comment

Insects are Good Garden Workers

Going for a walk round the garden has a two-fold benefit. It is a physical activity. I get to take note of what is happening. I observe. I think how I might make changes in the cooler months ahead. The plants are looking straggly these hot days. However, they do keep the soil covered. Various insects are enjoying the colours, scents and nectar of herbs and flowers.

Monarch Butterfly.jpg

Monarch Butterflies have been laying eggs.

It is my hope that my garden has a diversity of sources of food for bees and bumble bees, butterflies and their caterpillars, dragonflies and worms to flourish. Propagation of plants and soil health is dependent on the hidden work done by these good guys. The latest arrivals, the monarch caterpillars, are busy munching their way through the swan plant leaf matter. Each will soon be cocooned inside their chrysalis. preparing to metamorphose into a beautiful butterfly.

Monarch Caterpillars.jpg

Swan plant has proliferated with food source for the monarch caterpillars.

We do the best we can for the good guys. One way we look out for the bees is to set the mower blade at a level above the nectar-rich clover and dandelion flower heads before we cut the grass. These pasture plants are known for their nutritional value.

Clover and Dandelion.jpg

Grass is not mowed below flower head level.

In terms of food supply, insect pollinators play a vital role. The colour of the scarlet runner bean flowers attracts insects like bumble bees to propagate vegetables like beans. The beans are ready to be harvested thanks to these garden workers.

Fresh beans are a favourite vegetable and we need the bumblebees to pollinate the flowers.

The colour is a vivid splotch against the blue summer sky. Always loved by the bumble bees.


Leave a comment

Summer Heat and the Insects are at Work

A certain languor is essential to cool living in this summer heat. We stay indoors away from the midday sun. The cats lie comatosed. We check our 18-year old cat is even alive. He is fading and infirm and sadly, his days are numbered.

The most energetic lifeforms at work are the insects. Dragonflies dip and dive over water. They have a useful purpose. According to Himself, more dragonflies means that more mosquitoes are chomped.

Mozzies have a personal vendetta against Himself, so he says, slapping on insect repellent and squirting aerosol spray in the direction of yet another whining black dot.  I seem to be immune from these night-invaders. My good fortune neither helps nor amuses Himself under siege. Chemical warfare against the mozzies continues.


Bumblebees pollinate pumpkin plants

Greater numbers of bumblebees are visiting and working in the garden. I like to think this is because plantings of different herbs and plants have provided sources of nectar and pollen for much of the year. Overtime, I have tried to plant for diversity to attract beneficial insects. It seems to be happening.

Years ago, Himself and I cleared an overgrown Buddleia B.davidii from our boundary fenceline. It an invasive weed and a noxious pest plant. We disturbed a colony of hundreds of bumblebees nesting hidden deep in a large hole below ground level inside the rotting trunk.  Obviously the buddleia flowers were a great source of food.

The bumblebees did not seek to sting us – unlike wasps we have encountered. Since that time, I have learned more about these beneficial insects. Bumblebees are great garden pollinators.


Bumblebees ~ these furry foragers are welcome in my garden

Today, as I showed a friend round my garden, we stopped by the self-sown pumpkin plants that have scrambled freely over a sunny spot. It was a visual delight as bumblebees, two to three at a time, crawled deep into the throats of the pollen-rich golden yellow flowers. Bumblebees flitted from flower to flower in their continual quest for nectar. Each precious insect played its essential ecological role for our benefit. Such hard-workers. I like these furry foragers, working in my garden. They are very welcome.

In January 2007.  I got lost in thought about the value of the beneficial insects. Years ago, Himself and I cleared a rambling Buddleia (B.davidii), an invasive pest plant, from our roadside boundary. Unfortunately, we disturbed a large colony of bumblebees nesting in the ground among the sprawling tangled root system. Beautiful bumblebees by the hundreds flew into the air as the tractor pulled the enormous trunk from the ground.

The prolific Buddleia flowers were obviously a great food source of pollen proteins and sugary nectar. The bumblebees were kind to us that day when in our ignorance we wrecked their nest. Quite a different story though when we’ve encountered and dealt to aggressive wasps in their nests.

I appreciate how various beneficial insects pollinate edible plants. Like the pumpkin blooms, the courgette, the cucumber and the watermelon flowers also seem to be attracting the bumblebees.

“Bumblebees rely almost entirely on flowering plants for food and their very existence is dependent on gaining adequate supplies of nectar and pollen, or `bee bread.’ Bumblebees work very long hours, foraging from dawn to dusk in search of nectar and pollen even on cold, rainy or foggy days which prevent other insects from flying.”

I read that to encourage bumblebees to live and work in my garden a permanent nesting box is part of the answer as does growing a diversity of flowering food-source plants across the seasons.

1 Comment

My Garden ~ the bees aren’t buzzing like they did last year

The bee is more honored than other animals, not because she labors, but because she labors for others. St. John Chrysostom

Bees seem to have vanished from my garden. I’m not getting much of a buzz. My orchard is a feast for the senses. The plum, apple and quince trees are smothered with sweet nectar-filled white blossoms. The calendula, broad beans, borage and lavender and other companion plantings under my fruit trees are gaudy in their their orange, yellow, purple and blue scented array. Spring has well and truly arrived here. In my blog (September 2007), I couldn’t ignore the buzzing in my garden. But now, one year later, I see and hear only a handful of bees working among the blossoms. Where is the rest of the horde? It has been the wettest of winters. And I know the varroa mite has wreaked havoc on the nation’s hives. The silence in my garden scares me.


Transfixed as we are by the seriousness of  economic woes and global credit crunch fallout, there’s a serious ecological problem that has just as far-reaching and potentially devastating consequences for people everywhere. We must pay attenion to the chain of events happening in our food producing habitats. Prescient words echo down the decades in a quote (15 April 1964) from Rachel Carson’s obituary published in The New York Times.


“Now, I truly believe, that we in this generation, must come to terms with nature, and I think we’re challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves.”


Earlier this year when Mum was dying of cancer, my brothers, sister and I recalled how when we were kids, DDT was mixed into the fertilizer that was spread by agricultural top-dressing trucks and planes in white billowing dust clouds over the local farms. I can still ‘smell’ the DDT as I write this. There was the economic imperative to develop farms in those days. I’m not exactly sure what made Dad change his farming practice, but he did so by the 1960s. Others in Mum’s age group in the district have succumbed to the same cancer. We haven’t been able to get conclusive answers that may link the cancer to DDT. There seems to be a wall of silence. I have digressed somewhat from the vanished bees. One consequence of the application of this insecticide is that DDT remains in the soil. It may be residual DDT is part of the explanation for the silence of the bees.


The health of honey bees is critical to the well-being of humans. In my blog (September 2007), I mentioned how Mum was buoyed by a book The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton Porter. So I was interested during my web search to read Joe Brewer, (25 August, 2007), Rockridge Institute, Berkeley, CA. Bee Keeper’s Wisdom for Human Flourishing.


Back to bringing a buzz back into my garden. I’m not alone in my concerns about vanishing bees. An article (October 8, 2008) gives pointers and describes Californian farmers work in re-developing native bee habitats.


“With honeybee populations weakened by disease and the mysterious malady known as Colony Collapse Disorder, farmers place new focus on work to benefit native pollinators. Decisions by farmers and ranchers to replace bare ground along irrigation ditches and roadways with native plants, trees and grasses, in order to encourage beneficial insects and eliminate weeds, have evolved into a movement to bring native bees back to the farming landscape.”


I trawled the net for advice and insights to the nature of my gardening problem with the thought there must be something further I can do in my backyard. There’s any number of websites and blogs about colony collapse disorder and bees.


NZ newspaper item (6 October 2008) Fears that bee colony disease is here.


National Beekeepers’ Association of New Zealand (25 September 2008) posted a Radio NZ report on the declining bee numbers.


Linda Moulton Howe (31 August 2008) wrote about the poor health of honey bees.


1 Comment

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.